‘The city of dreams!’, is the sobriquet that is often repeated in relation to the city of Mumbai. It was a phrase that dominated most of my childhood in Chennai, as my father would travel to the city and come back with tales of a place that never slept and trains that would take you to every nook and corner. It was the trains, more than anything else that caught my fancy.
Trains had always symbolized freedom to me. The wind in your hair, the rush of adrenaline to catch the seat by the window and the journey itself, made me yearn to travel by these local trains.
I got my first chance this summer as I got an internship in the city. However, all these ‘dreams’ of mine were crushed, not by the crowd as one might suppose but by the number of children I saw begging on these trains.These children were highly trained in, if you may be bold enough to say, the art of begging. They went from passenger to passenger singing in shrill voices, hardly stopping to give their vocal chords some rest.
It was a voice that pierced through your heart and through any apathy that you may hold for those who refuse to work for a living. One can’t expect a child of four or five to be employed; neither can you rudely refuse those pleading eyes that speak of a hunger that fractures any resolve you may have. They were all dressed in tattered clothes which had clearly been cast away by the original owners.It was one such child who entered the compartment I was seated in that made my heart feel heavy and instil a sense of helplessness in me. All of five years, she ran up to the train just as it was set to leave the Mumbai Central station. Dressed in a green ‘ghagra’, you might not even take her to be a beggar at first sight. But then the singing began.
Two lines were all she sang, repeating them over and over again, invoking the lord. I didn’t understand much of what she sang but the desperation in it put me on the edge and it took all my willpower to turn my head away as she approached. The child then to my utter disbelief laid her head on my knee, a sign of complete surrender.
I looked at her in shock, sympathy engulfing my heart. She lay there for more than a minute, continuing to sing, begging for some money. A bespectacled old man next to me, who clearly travelled by these trains often, looked at me understandingly and said – “Don’t fall for these tricks. It is an emotional ploy.”I nodded at his statement in acknowledgement and turned to see that the child had already gone, paving her way through the crowded compartment. All the voices that spoke of fulfilled dreams in Mumbai weighed upon my memory and I couldn’t help but think of the irony.
There went a little child, whose dreams never even had the chance to blossom for they were nipped at the bud. Her singing became fainter as she moved away and finally she was out of sight.
But the song never stopped. It continued to reverberate within my head through the day. It was not her face that surfaced in my memories the entire time but the eerie melody of the song she sang.
It represented to me a sense of hopelessness and the inability to wrought change. Every note the child hit in the pitiful song, falls as a blow to a system that failed her.
“KHUSHI” is an AWARENESS CAMPAIGN, launched by Vedanta Resources plc, with a focus to sensitize people towards care for the underprivileged and deprived children – their Nutrition – Education – Health and overall development. Join Khushi on Facebook.