Monday, December 7, 2015

Pradeep - The Garbage Cart with Flowers

There is this family that brings a cart to collect garbage from every home in the colony. I never paid much attention to the cart nor the people for a long time. But the other day I was intrigued to find that the garbage cart was well maintained and even more surprisingly was adorned by a beautiful bouquet of plastic flowers on its handle. It was such a contrast to see that - a garbage cart and this little piece of adornment.
Young Pradeep on his way

But that's the beauty of life. In our little ways we try to improve life around us. What bothers us most we try to better it. We find pride in our work, our possessions and we reveal ourselves as we do that. I was really interested in knowing the story behind the flowers.

I kept a sharp eye out for the cart and the owners to ask them. Sometimes I'd find the cart but no owner. Then one day I found the cart but a small kid, no more than ten or eleven, collecting the garbage. There was no adult in sight.

Anyway I called him and asked him if I could take a picture of him and his rickshaw. He posed willingly. I asked him about the flowers. He said his mother had put it there. His mother and older brother normally come to collect garbage.

I asked him what he was doing. Does he go to school? Yes, he said. Then why are you here on a working day, I asked. I stay back to help on Mondays he said. There is a lot of work because garbage piles up over two days. So I have to help my mother.

That's it. No other thought.

You never know what kind of stuff people are going through. I asked him if he liked studying. He said yes. I asked him if he knew what possibilities existed if he studied well. He said he would get a job. I told him he could buy a house right here in this colony if he studied well. He looked embarrassed at the thought.

I asked him if he wanted some books to read. He was happy. I gave him a set of books, some workbooks, some storybooks. He ran away with them and put them somewhere. I asked him what he did with the books. He said he kept them safe - he will collect them after the round.

I asked him his name. Pradeep, he said proudly. And so Pradeep with his cart and his plastic flowers, his neat clothes and appearance, his pride at helping his mother, his dreams of a future cycled away from me.

There was a time when I used to lecture the kids about child labour but now I don't. If I was in his position I would want to help my mother and brother, even if I was small.

There's a visual from around that same time that stays with me. A small family of labourers were engaged in digging the road in our colony. Some four or five men and women. They had children not more than two years old or three - just about walking. Even as the father was shifting stones and bricks from the rubble, the two year old, all earnestness, picked up a stone his size and shifted it. He did that, one small stone by one small stone. One look at his face and you knew he had decided in that tiny mind of his what his duty was and he was it. Holding on to his father's leg for support and all focused on helping out. Parents, children, duty, expectations, work, survival. Life.

Everyone is fighting their own battle. All we can do is wish them well.

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