Hi! I am Bindu. It’s funny how my parents named me Bindu because I am a boy and boys are supposed to be named Raj Kumar or Rahul or Dheeraj, not Bindu! But I guess they couldn’t think of a better name. Or probably they didn’t have enough time to worry about names. I don’t blame them for not having time. They never had time for any of my two sisters too. They always worked. When I was small, I had asked my mother why she and father have to work all the time, she had replied that because we don’t have enough place to stay and enough money to eat. I’d thought to myself that this city, this Mumbai, situated in a country housing a billion people is big but not enough for five of us to stay comfortably, even after working day and night.
One day, I saw a big group of children, dressed up similarly, going somewhere with similar bag packs on their shoulders. I asked my father about them, he said that they were going to school, where they get to read and write. I felt an attraction and I also wanted to go. My father ignored my pleas of letting me go with them to read and write and concentrated on working. At the end of the day, I decided that I won’t be going home until father allowed me to go to school. I thought he’d say yes but instead he got angry, picked me up roughly, dragged me home and gave me a sound beating. After emptying his anger, he picked up his purse and disappeared for several hours. I never understood where he went whenever he had a fight with mother or was angry. He went almost every day. And whenever he would come back, he would be in a different mood. He would beat my mother with utensils in the kitchen and call her names. I hated him for calling her names because I never liked when my sister called me any names. My mother used to cook food on the gas stove that was just next to my bed. She cooked wonderful food and although we rarely got more than we were hungry for, she fed us with love. She never had dislike towards my sisters but father didn’t like them as much as he liked me. Even though he brought me candies that only I was supposed to eat, he never gave them with love; he only thought it was his duty. My mother used to clean other people’s houses because they didn’t seem to bother about them and my mother always liked cleanliness.
Once I asked my friend what it is like going to school. He explained to me that in school, we have to pray every day and take beatings from the teachers and do homework that teachers give all the time, leaving us no time for playing. But I was only fascinated by the idea of getting to read and write. I ran home and told my sisters that I wanted to go to school. They hushed me, saying that to go to school you need money and parents do not have money. I asked where we exactly get money from. They said that you have to work day and night and then you get enough money to spend it on something like a school. I said that mother and father work every day then why can’t we go to school. They said I won’t understand and repeated that we need money to go to school. I was mortified but then I resolved that when I grow up, I will go to school. But my prayers were answered when mother arrived. She had got a salary and had got two dolls for my sisters and a tiny blackboard for me. I was happy because she said that once she gets some more money, I would go to school. She was God’s answer to me and I ran out and showed my blackboard to everyone in the society. I could feel the envy in my friends who also, like me, never went to school. But I said that after I go to school, I will earn to be a big man and then will make them also go to school. They were satisfied then. I returned home to find that my father had arrived. I ran to him and showed him my blackboard and that mother has promised me to send me to school. I don’t know why everyone fell silent, including my mother who started stirring the rice even faster. That remained for some time and then my father got up and went outside as always.
At midnight, my sisters woke me up and asked me to rush out. I was in a haze and asked them what had happened. My sisters said that my mother had got burnt. I looked around to see my father sitting nervously in a corner. I was amazed that he wasn’t rushing out. We went out to see people gathered around something black and red and as we went closer, one of the neighbours took us away to our homes and said that the black and red bundle is my mother. I never saw my mother again and some people took my father away and he never returned to see us. I didn’t understand why my parents were taken away when we needed them the most.
One day, my sister got sick and she fainted. I and my other sister tried to beg from the neighbours and got a few pounds of rice. We fed her the full rice because she needed them and we remained hungry. I always remembered my mother when it was like this; we never remained hungry when she was there. I loitered around the station for some time; looking for something to eat. No one even cared that I was sitting there hungry; all they did was talk and eat. Surprisingly, there were some boys and girls of my age, who begged from those people, and ate food. I was hungry so I also joined them. In one hour, I made a whopping ten rupees and bought three vadapaus for me and my sister. I was so happy that I will finally get to eat. We hadn’t eaten properly since my mother disappeared in that bundle of black and red. I and my sisters had a hearty meal and I decided to start work, begging, early next morning. But only the first day seemed good, because after that, I made rarely five rupees in a day. Sometimes I would buy food for my sisters and I would sleep hungry; thinking of my mother which made it bearable somehow. Once I reached station early in the morning and there were not many passengers. I started begging but with no luck. I sat down, tired from hunger and frustrated due to no work, when a newspaper stall owner called me. He asked if I would sell his newspapers on the local trains. I asked him will I get food after selling newspapers. I didn’t know what that newspaper business was about. He said that he will pay me fifty rupees in a day and would pay more if I sell fifty copies. I was overjoyed and took up the business. He asked my age before starting, I said I was big enough, six. He smiled and looked kind and handed me a bundle of newspapers to sell. I went to the platform to wait for the next train. The train arrived and along with it, brought a hope for a better future, a hope to be able to go to school someday and to be able to read and write.
Prarthi Dholakia is a fiction writer as well as a theatre actress. She started her career as a feature writer in the Times of India (Ahmedabad Times) and went on to write screenplays for Indian national television serials and films for the next ten years. English is her language of choice.