Author Note: This is a fiction based on facts.
In the search of an interesting picture my camera and I were ambling down the streets of Pune. Voracity for a better angle, greediness of a better subject kept me going. I took some good shots in the streets. It was getting dark, the sun was setting and light has gone bad to worst. It was late as well and I had already walked for 3 hours. I was tired and hungry. I decided I would get the dinner packed and head back home. After such a tiring walk I was in no mood to go back and cook.
I got the dinner packed and I was looking for an auto rickshaw, is when a child approached me. He must be not older then 7, his hair dishevelled, bare feet, wearing a dirty t-shirt and a dirty little short. My first impression of him was that he’s a beggar and he would irritate me for money. I was about to shoo him off when he politely requested “Bhaiya kya mein aapke joote saaf kar dun? Sirf do Rupay lagenge.” I was surprised by the pleasant tone of his voice, however I denied couple of times, but his voice had a conviction. I took out 50 Rupee note from my wallet I said to him “Don’t clean my shoe but keep the money.”
He denied taking the money but instead he looked at me and said… “Agar aap meri madat karna chaahte hain to kya aap mujhe boot polish karne ka dabba kharid denge?” and then before I could reply to that he spoke again but this time in English “if you buy me the box it will help me earn better money and study as well. I study in class 4.” I was taken flabbergasted. His English was immaculate. Without giving it a second thought I said “Ok, where do we get the box?” The little boy took my hand and said “Come with me I’ll take you there.”
Just across that road he took me to the corner of the street where some middle age boys were sitting and next to them spread on a white cloth few old books, worn out radios, remote control and various other old, second hand things on sale. They were four of them and each of them looked not older than 18 years. The little guy went to the boy sitting in the middle and said “the box”. The other guys stole a glance between them. One in the middle said to me “Wait here.” He got up and went a little bit ahead and disappeared into the small lane. Then it hit me that something is fishy about this whole business. The little guy approaches me when I came out the restaurant, makes small talk and then flaunts his perfect English and then takes me to these guys. But what really gave them away was that one word he used in front of these guys to explain the entire predicament… “the box”. He used just one word, as if it was rehearsed and was part of the plan. As if the he was telling them “common you know the drill, I got you the bait and now it’s your turn.”
Just as I was close to solve the case in my head the little boy interrupted by making small talks.. “Are you from Pune?” I said Yes I am and asked him where was he from. He said “I am from Rajasthan, my dad bought us here looking for a better living, but he died and from then I am taking care of my mother and studying as well.” I thought in my head ‘wow it’s all so well-rehearsed, the classic Indian sentimental story, fathers dead, taking care of sick mother, fighting the cruel world alone. The older boy came back and asked us to follow him. We did, he took us to a small shop in a small lane nearby. It was an old shop where some old newspaper and magazines were kept bundled up. An old man was sitting, he was wearing a white kurta and a lungi and was reading a news-paper. The older boy showed us two boot polish boxes kept in front. One could easily understand that it was just recently been kept there as a show piece. It all looked fabricated. I asked him the price of the boxes. Older boy said “smaller one is 250 and bigger one is 350”.
I had thought the maximum he would say would be 100 rupee but 350, are you kidding me? I was about to back off and go when he held my hand and said “Thank you bhaiya, you are doing a great favour to me. I shall never forget this. Next time you come this side I’ll try to get your money back to you. You’ll find me there”, he was pointing towards the one corner of the road. I looking at his face it was beaming with happiness, but when I looked into his eyes, they looked sad and ashamed. Perhaps he was forced into all this. Or perhaps he has no other choice. I don’t know why I felt that moment that this is happening for a good reason. May be one day he will find me some street corner and return my the money back.
I thought to myself that I know I am being cheated but I cared no more about it. The look at the little boy’s face was far more valuable than my 350 Rupee. I asked the boy which one would he like? He bashfully pointed his finger at the bigger one. I took out 350 Rupee from my wallet and handed it to the bigger boy. The little boy picked up the box and with the biggest smile on his face. I brushed his hair and said “I hope you’ll make very good use of it and make your mother proud of you one day.” He looked at me, our eyes met, he wanted to say something but the words didn’t come out. He gently nodded his head. As if his word were suddenly buried under his guilty conscious. I turned and walked away. I know I was cheated, I know it was well rehearsed con game. I don’t know why but I was content and I was happy. I can’t explain that feeling. Sometimes when you let others make a fool of you for someone else’s happiness or smile, it’s probably the smartest thing to do.
Later that night I laid at my bed thinking about that boy. Wo Con tha, nai tha, I dont know. But I was happy. I slept well that night.