A True incident
Date: 14th August 2016, Time: 10:30 pm
Place: Outside Zaitoon, Velachery, Chennai
Place: Outside Zaitoon, Velachery, Chennai
My wife, daughter and I came out of Zaitoon ( A restaurant) after a sumptuous dinner. The guy at the door went to fetch my car and I was standing at the entrance when a little girl approached me with a few things to sell. She must have been around 8. She had a few Indian flags in her hand, a few strips of sticker, a few pens and flannel cloth to wipe the car.
As I have worked in an NGO, my immediate thought was that this girl must be a bonded laborer or must be a part of a mafia. So I looked around to see if any thug is orchestrating her movements from nearby. But I could not find anyone around. So to make sure that she was not in trouble, I initiated a conversation with her. My wife and my daughter were standing next to me.
Me: How much are these?
She: Rs 10 each.
Me: OK. I will buy two sticker sheets from you
( I bought two sticker sheets and handed her Rs.20. My daughter was happy now because she could now stick the walls with these stickers. I made two little girls happy with that single transaction)
She: Sir, I am hungry. Can you give me that food parcel? (She was pointing at the food parcel I had bought from Zaitoon)
Me: OK. Here you go.
(By this time, my car had arrived; but I wanted t know more about this little girl
Me: Do you think you are safe working at 10.30 pm here?
She: My parents and my elder brother are also selling these in that signal
(She points to the near by signal and I can see a couple of people selling the same things to cars parked at the signal)
Me: Where do you get these things from?
She: My father buys it from Parry's corner, Chennai.
Me: Where is your house?
She: We live in Avadi
( Those who are well versed with Chennai will know that Velachery, Parry's corner and Avadi are at three ends of Chennai)
Me: So when do you go back home?
She: We will leave in another 30 minutes.
Me: Are you studying?
She: Yes, I am studying in 3rd standard. I come to sell with my brother only on weekends.
(This girl sensed that I was asking this question to check if she was forced to Child labor and she was brainy enough to give that additional answer that she works only on weekends. Apparently she was earning along with her family to take care of her education)
Me: How much do you buy these stickers from Parry's corner?
She: Dad buys them for Rs 3/- per strip
Me: Wow! So you just made a profit of Rs 14/-
(Here I was having a conversation with a brilliant mind who could logically understand my question; but was innocent enough to reveal the money for which she originally bought that sticker for. That was the innocence of her age.)
She: Sir, I make Rs 500/- profit by selling these in a day
(I thought she was making up this number. So I asked her a cross question)
Me: So how many of these stickers do you sell in a day?
She: I sell around 80 things including the stickers and flags (It was India's Independence day the next day). So I make a profit of around Rs 500/-
Me: But Isn't 80 multiplied by 10 = Rs 800?
She: Yes sir. But I am only talking about the profit. I deducted Rs 300/- from that
(Here was an 8 year old girl who was taking a class to me on multiplication and was also teaching me about basics of financial accounting. I was overwhelmed by this.)
Me: So what do you want to become in future? (Expecting her to say "Engineer or Doctor")
She: I will be rich one day. Very rich. (She was confident in her response. She could have said that she wanted to be rich one day. But her words were that she will be rich one day)
I said good bye to her and came back home. I forgot to click a picture of the girl. Today morning, when my daughter took the sticker strip to stick them in her favorite wooden board, I remembered each and every single word she spoke to me.
1) She was not begging and she was not part of any mafia
2) She was not doing bonded labor. She has the right to education and she was studying
3) She was good in numbers and she knew what she wanted to become in life
Yes! poverty was making her do all these. But she was a confident girl; not arrogant; but with a vision which I am sure she would achieve.
I did not ask her name. But I am sure that I would be able to see her around Velachery on a weekend. When there are thousands of people who choose begging as a way of life or cheating as a lifestyle, there is this little girl who has started carving her own future with a determination that will surely take her where she wants to go.