Sunday, June 04, 2006

The policeman and the boy

I was taking a bus trip from the small, beautiful, unpolluted town where I live to the city 25 kms away. I had decided to take a bus instead of hiring one of the cars I hire regularly. The car drivers are friends and each of them has his own way of keeping me up to date with what is happening. But I wanted to get a feel of the environment I saw during my teens and my twenties. The best way to do that is to take a bus. A train ride is a shade better as far as travelling comfort is concerned but the trains are so few and far in between that I just do not consider them. I am attending a book release function. I had received an invitation in the morning. An HR executive of the sponsor of the event had rung up and invited me.

The bus left its starting point at 3 pm. It was almost full. At every stop more people got in. Some get off at stops enroute. By the time we reach the outskirts of the city the bus has a few empty seats. A grey-haired policeman and a street urchin who looked barely eight or nine years old came and sat on the seat next to mine. It was obvious that the cop was escorting the young boy. Most probably to a remand home. I heard the boy say something. I couldn't quiet catch his words. The cop told him in Hindi that he was taking him to a place where he would get everything he needed. His tone was somewhat mocking. The boy looked scared. The policeman did not look like a cruel man. He looked tired and jaded. He asked the boy whether he had any parents or guardians. The boy said he had nobody.

This looked very Dickensian. I started talking to the cop. He told me that they had found this boy wandering aimlessly. That he belonged to a town approximately 70 kms away. He was taking the boy to a remand home. The boy heard the cop and he burst into tears. I felt bad. I wanted to him to stop crying. I told him to stop crying. I felt he would be much safer in a remand home than in the streets even though I knew that remand homes are not safe for children. Horrific scenes from films like Salaam Bombay and Chandni Bar flooded my mind. I prayed that he does not get physically or mentally abused and that he found safety. I wanted to give him some money. But that may have made it dangerous for him in the remand home. I realised I was trying to address my need to feel good as I was unable to see the trauma that this young orphan was undergoing. I told him that he would be safer in the remand home than on the street. But as I told him this I prayed yet again that I was right. At that moment I wished that I had the courage, strength and resources to do something for this child. But all I had were words. Plenty of them. The cop also chipped in. "Yes," he said, not unkindly, "you will also meet other children your age. You won't be alone." I try to project that as a straw for a drowning man. I can see the youngster making an effort to clutch it. But he was in a state of shock. And he must have known that the other children there would be prisoners too.

My stop arrived within ten minutes. I decided not to give any cash to the boy. I wished I had some fruits or biscuits with me. But why was I thinking all this? Had one boy's plight forced me to face the reality which I had always avoided? Looked like it. I got down. I took a final look at the boy. He was staring into thin air. Like a boxer who had been floored by a flurry of punches. I prayed that he would get up and fight. I prayed for his safety. I walked past the bus and I forgot him. I had to get to the venue. I was back in my cocoon.

I took an autorickshaw to the venue. The function was an interesting one. A small gathering. Including the writer's family members. Speeches. Applause. The author talked about his childhood in a small town. Powerpoint presentation. Poetry recital by a young lady. Questions and answers. Snacks and tea afterwards. He has written about the magic of films before the onset of the television era. It seems to be an interesting book. I can imagine the boy I saw sitting in a dark cinema hall, watching a film with rapt attention.

While returning home I bought the vcds of a couple of films to view at leisure. I also decided to have a beer. I entered a beer bar. One of those places which is visited by men only. My first visit to such a den. There were a couple of bouncers to maintain law and order. What a difference from my last visit when I and a lady friend had gone to a good hotel and enjoyed a drink or two while enjoying the pop numbers being sung by a crooner. Even though I had a light beer it made me tipsy. I think it must have been due to the physical fatigue. I took another bus ride to come back to my town. A scooter ride brought me home. But the boy's crying face kept coming back to my mind. Was it due to the alcohol that I couldn't suppress the memory? While the effect of the beer lingered I typed out this blog to share my thoughts with all those who read this . I was not happy with what I wrote. But I knew that I could polish it up later.


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