It was twilight time; I was sitting on a concrete bench beside the shopping mall thinking whether or not to call my dear sister who kept me waiting for past ten minutes and was showing no signs to come any sooner than an hour. I was fuming inside; my regular pair of shoes are in real bad shape, need to buy some designer clothes before my next big presentation this Monday, probably a new watch too… and there she was, still busy in some important meeting with her ugly boss. Ting… “Hey Rhea, looks like its gonna take another 10 mins, you go inside the mall and start looking, I’ll join in a bit”… I don’t know why I make plans with this lady who never appears on time once she is inside the office, I’m going back to home right now, can’t take the same shit all the time!
“Didi… please gimme 20 rupees”… came a low soft voice… I looked around to find a tiny girl who was holding the hand of a even tinier boy; they both looked astonishingly tidy and sophisticated for beggars. Unlike my elder sister Myra who hates beggars of any kind, I feel a strange warmth for kid beggars, despite her repetitive scolds I could never help giving them bucks, I knew almost all the kid beggars by face who operated around the main signal next to station. Whenever our car stopped by the signal, one or two of them would come closer with confidence and expectation that I’m going to shell out something. The hatred between Myra and those kids were mutual as was the warmth between them and me!
“Didi… I need 20 rupees to fulfill my day’s target, please can you help me”… Lost in thoughts I almost forgot the little one’s presence. I asked her… “Target! You guys got targets too? Who gives you this target? Where is he? What is your daily target? Is there a monthly target too?”… I was so taken aback by the “target” word that I thrown her a bucketful of questions probably without expecting any answer at all. Without thinking I took a fifty rupee note out of my purse and offered her… “Didi… I don’t have change, please give me 20 only, I just need 20”… Her honesty struck a chord inside me, none of the kids have ever given me this response, and though I never offered any more than ten bucks still this seemed very unique. “Hey Chhoti, you keep this 50, buy some food for you and your brother”…”No Didi… you gimme 20 only, if you wish then buy us some food separately from the nearby stall, don’t give extra money, Babu Dada will snatch it away, he always does”…”But you are anyways going to give that entire money to Babu Dada, right?”… I could guess that this Babu Dada was their handler, their immediate boss who monitors them, probably watching both of us talking right now from somewhere nearby… “Why should I give him more than the day’s target, he never submits extra money to Bua, rather he buys alcohol for himself”… “Who is this Bua?”…”Babu Dada’s aunty”…”Oh, fine, you take 20 then, by the way, what is your daily target?”… “300 Didi…”… “What’s your name Chhoti?”… “Minu and this is my younger brother Somu, we have an elder brother called Ravi. We used to live in Nallasopara few years back, then both our parents died out of jaundice. Ravi Dada left studies and went searching for a job and got this job for all of us. Ravi Dada’s daily target is 650 rupees, mine 300 and Somu’s 200. Bua told me if I could make 25000 in a month they’ll set Somu and me free and if three of us can make 50000 in a month then they’ll set all of us free! But these are very big targets, not sure how am I going to make such big amount in a month, but I have to try somehow.”… She narrated her life’s story breathlessly. I was shell shocked at life’s ugliness and banality, struck hard by the irony of the moment, I felt blank. Few minutes’ back all I was concerned about is my designer apparels and my watch, shoes, etc. etc. and then life slapped me so hard that I was unable to think straight.
I don’t know much time passed, I went to the near by food stall and bought sandwiches and water for the kids, forgetting to ask whether they preferred veg or non-veg, I got egg sandwiches thinking egg will add some good nutritional value to the food. Minu and Somu seemed joyous by the food offering and started eating immediately. I knew this was not enough; this food and water offering is not going change their life’s equation. I wanted to do something, wanted to do more, snatch Minu and Somu out of this vicious circle and change their life’s perspective. They are just kids, they need to be protected by a parent, they are so vulnerable and helpless this way, they are in huge risk… and Minu, she is a girl, will grow up rapidly and be used for even nastier jobs… oh no, what do I do? How do I save this girl from the dangerous men out there? “Didi… thank you very much for the food and 20 rupees, we gotta go now, we are not allowed to roam beyond sunset, must go back to the Jhopra right now, its in Sanpada, going to take some time walking, Bua will be really angry if we are late, Babu Dada can beat me up if he comes back drunk and sees me awake, I need to hit bed with the other kids before he comes back”… Minu finished talking breathlessly again, before I could even speak she and Somu was waving hands to me and almost started running towards Sanpada. Ting… “I’m in the lift, where are you?”… Almost an hour passed and I was not fuming or complaining to Myra… “Hey sweetie you are still outside? I told you to go in and start looking. Why don’t you ever listen to me dearie? Your favorite shop might be closed by now. Hey I’m so sorry babes, Mayuri had an excellent idea that she wanted to discuss immediately and you know innovation cannot be trapped by time, anyway, forget it, will tell you later. Lets hurry now.” Myra was always conscienceless whenever she had to defend her work commitments, she was not sorry at all, was just saying it because she loved me, she doesn’t even bother to apologize to other people for such reasons. Love and commitment defined Myra; she was the selfless one among the two of us. She hated beggars because she believed it’s a business, she accepted that those kids were victims but according to her if all of us stopped offering money to them then this business won’t have a future and no more kids will be abducted to support this nasty money game.
“Myra, I need your help. Can you convince Sujal if I want take two kids home today and raise them as my daughter and son? Also, can you take me to Sanpada Jhopra right now? I need to fetch those two kids. Please hurry up, we don’t have time.”… Myra was caught by surprise and didn’t react for a good few seconds, she was not used to see me like this, of course she knew a demanding, complaining, and selfish Rhea but not this Rhea. I didn’t expect Myra to say no, my sister and my husband always adored me, pampered me, almost said yes to everything I demanded and this time I was appealing with tears in my eyes. “Chhoti, you can’t take anybody home just like that, you have to do it legally”… “I know that Myra, I’ll do all the legalities later, but right now I need to fetch those two kids first, they are not safe in that Jhopra.”… “Chhoti, please calm down, stop crying, and tell me what happened, then lets see if we can do something about it.”… “Di, we don’t have time, please understand, I need to free Minu and Somu from this beggar’s racket. They are with dangerous men and women, they need our help, right now!!”… Myra gauged the situation immediately and pulled me fiercely towards car parking lobby, she was in no mood to listen to me. This was the first time in many years she refused me for something I wanted so badly. We were home in next fifteen minutes; as usual Sujal was still out, but nothing was bothering me today more than Minu’s story.
I changed while Myra worked in the kitchen warming up food for dinner; Sujal was on the way back to home. I felt restless but could not speak looking at Myra’s mood, why she got so pissed off with me? Was it wrong if I wanted to save two innocent lives? I could guess she was waiting for Sujal to come back; she’ll discuss it over dinner probably. Doorbell rang… must be Sujal.
It was midnight and I was still awake, Sujal was fast asleep beside me and Myra was watching TV in the living room. I know she was as disturbed as me but she was practical enough see the danger if we went to that Jhopra today to fetch Minu and Somu. I didn’t realize that this business is run by nasty mafias, and they could go any level to stop anybody whoever is trying to chew their meat, no matter how noble is the cause, more noble would probably cause more danger. I know that we don’t posses enough power or capacity to fight these people but we didn’t even try! Myra says trying is immaterial when we know that results will be negative, probably she is right. I understood the risks, and I realized my mistake. I was probably risking my entire family to save Minu and Somu… but wasn’t she worth a try?
It’s been eight months since I met Minu… I don’t know why I could never see her again around the station area… probably her handler saw us talking that day and shifted them to some other business… probably they have gone to another area… or probably she managed 25000 Rupees to free herself and Somu… I wish if could offer her 25000 instead of 20…