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Lost Spring - Stories of Stolen Childhood- Class 12 English Explanation, Summary, Difficult Words

By Ruchika Gupta

CBSE class 12 English Chapter 2 - Lost Spring - Stories of Stolen Childhood

 

CBSE class 12 English Reader (Flamingo) Chapter 2 - Lost Spring - Stories of Stolen Childhood. detailed explanation of the story along with meanings of difficult words. Also, the explanation is followed by a Summary of the lesson. All the exercises and Question and Answers given at the back of the lesson, CBSE board questions have also been solved.

 

About the author

 

Anees Jung
Born at Rourkela, India in 1964

 

She is an Indian woman author, journalist and columnist. She belongs to an aristocratic family of poets.

Her most noted work, Unveiling India (1987) was a detailed chronicle of the lives of women in India.

 

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Chapter and Explanation

 

Story 1 - ‘Sometimes I find a Rupee in the garbage’

“Why do you do this?” I ask Saheb whom I encounter every morning scrounging for gold in the garbage dumps of my neighbourhood. Saheb left his home long ago. Set amidst the green fields of Dhaka, his home is not even a distant memory. There were many storms that swept away their fields and homes, his mother tells him. That’s why they left, looking for gold in the big city where he now lives.

 

Scrounging – searching for

Amidst – in the middle of

 

Every morning, the writer sees a young ragpicker boy who visits the garbage dump near her house and searches for ‘gold’ in it. The writer says that he searches for ‘gold’ ironically because although the garbage dump is full of useless, thrown away things, still he shuffles it so minutely as if he will get something as precious as ‘gold’ from it. The boy’s name is Saheb. His home in Dhaka was in the middle of lush green fields. They had left it many years ago and he does not remember it anymore. His mother had told him that there were many storms which destroyed their homes and fields. So, they left home and shifted to the cities in search of ‘gold’. The writer again says, “looking for gold in the big city”. Gold here refers to something precious which was not available in their hometown. Things like shoes, money, bags, etc. for the children and food, clothing, shelter as means of survival for their parents. The boy searches for such precious things in the garbage dumps. One day the writer questions Saheb and asks him the reason for shuffling through the garbage.

 

“I have nothing else to do,” he mutters, looking away.

“Go to school,” I say glibly, realising immediately how hollow the advice must sound.

“There is no school in my neighbourhood. When they build one, I will go.”

“If I start a school, will you come?” I ask, half-joking.

 

Mutters – to speak in a low voice

Glibly - speaking or spoken in a confident way, but without careful thought or honesty

Hollow – meaningless

 

Saheb replies to the writer that he has nothing else to do other than rag picking. The writer suggests that he should go to school. She realizes that her advice is meaningless for the poor boy. He replies that there are no schools in the area where he lives. He also assures her that he will go to school when one is built near his house. The writer asks him jokingly that if she opened a school would he attend it.

 

“Yes,” he says, smiling broadly. A few days later I see him running up to me. “Is your school ready?”

“It takes longer to build a school,” I say, embarrassed at having made a promise that was not meant. But promises like mine abound in every corner of his bleak world.

 

Embarrassed - feeling ashamed

abound - exist in large numbers

bleak – empty

 

Saheb says that he would join the writer’s school and after a few days, he runs up to her to ask whether her school is ready. The writer replied that it takes a lot of time to build a school. She felt ashamed at making a false promise. She had said this as a joke and had never intended to open a school, so she felt ashamed of herself. Saheb was not hurt because he was used to such false promises as they existed in large numbers in his empty world. He was surrounded by such false promises made by everyone around him. His world was empty as no promise made to Saheb was ever fulfilled.

 

After months of knowing him, I ask him his name. “Saheb-e-Alam,” he announces. He does not know what it means. If he knew its meaning — lord of the universe — he would have a hard time believing it. Unaware of what his name represents, he roams the streets with his friends, an army of barefoot boys who appear like the morning birds and disappear at noon. Over the months, I have come to recognise each of them.

 

 

he would have a hard time believing it - it would be difficult for him to believe that his name meant ‘the Lord of the Universe’

barefoot – wearing nothing in the feet

 

The writer had known Saheb for a few months when she asked him his name. He replied as if he was making an announcement that his name was Saheb – E – Alam. The writer thought that the boy did not know the meaning of his name and if he came to know that his name meant “Lord of the Universe” he would not be able to believe it. His name was opposite to his life. He went around the streets with a group of friends. It was like an army of boys who did not wear any footwear. They appeared in the morning like the morning birds and disappeared at noon. The writer could recognize all of them as she had been seeing them for the past few months.

“Why aren’t you wearing chappals?” I ask one.

“My mother did not bring them down from the shelf,” he answers simply.

 

The writer asked one of them that why was he not wearing any footwear. The boy simply replied that his mother did not get them down from the shelf. As they were beyond his reach, he did not wear them.

“Even if she did he will throw them off,” adds another who is wearing shoes that do not match. When I comment on it, he shuffles his feet and says nothing. “I want shoes,” says a third boy who has never owned a pair all his life. Travelling across the country I have seen children walking barefoot, in cities, on village roads. It is not lack of money but a tradition to stay barefoot, is one explanation. I wonder if this is only an excuse to explain away a perpetual state of poverty.

 

Shuffles - slides them over each other

excuse - a reason to justify a fault

perpetual state of poverty - never ending condition of being poor

 

Another boy who was wearing a different shoe in each foot said that even if his mother would have given him the footwear, he would have thrown it away. He meant that the boy was not wearing footwear because he did not want to wear one. The writer asked the second boy the reason for wearing a different shoe in each foot. He did not reply and shuffled his feet as he tried to hide the shoes. A third boy spoke that he was eager to get a pair of shoes as he had never owned one all his life. The writer takes the example of shoes to highlight the condition of these boys. They search the garbage dumps looking for such precious things. She further tells us that as she travelled across the country, she had seen many children walking barefoot in the cities as well as the villages. They reasoned that they were barefoot not due to lack of money to buy footwear, but being barefoot was a tradition for them. The writer wondered and concluded that the reason of it being a tradition was a mere excuse to hide the fact that they were so poor that they could not afford footwear.

 

I remember a story a man from Udipi once told me. As a young boy he would go to school past an old temple, where his father was a priest. He would stop briefly at the temple and pray for a pair of shoes. Thirty years later I visited his town and the temple, which was now drowned in an air of desolation. In the backyard, where lived the new priest, there were red and white plastic chairs. A young boy dressed in a grey uniform, wearing socks and shoes, arrived panting and threw his school bag on a folding bed. Looking at the boy, I remembered the prayer another boy had made to the goddess when he had finally got a pair of shoes, “Let me never lose them.” The goddess had granted his prayer. Young boys like the son of the priest now wore shoes. But many others like the ragpickers in my neighbourhood remain shoeless.

 

Desolation - the state of being empty

Panting - taking short and quick breathes

 

The writer narrates a story told to her by a man from Udipi. (Udipi is a town in Karnataka).

When he was a young boy, he would walk to his school. On the way, he would cross a temple where his father worked as a priest. He would stop at the temple and pray to God to bless him with a pair of shoes. After thirty years the writer visited the town and the temple. Now the place was nearly empty. The new priest lived in the backyard of the temple. Plastic chairs in red and white colour were kept there. A young boy came running. He was wearing grey coloured school uniform, socks and shoes. He had a school bag hung on his shoulders. He threw it on the bed and ran away. The writer wants to say that the financial position of the priest at the temple had improved over the last thirty years. Now, he could afford shoes for this children. She was reminded of another boy who got a pair of shoes. He prayed to the goddess that he may never lose the shoes that he had got. The goddess had granted his prayer as the boy never lost his footwear. This shows us that the underprivileged value anything that they get because they have been longing for it.

 

  

 

My acquaintance with the barefoot ragpickers leads me to Seemapuri, a place on periphery of Delhi yet miles away from it, metaphorically. Those who live here are squatters who came from Bangladesh back in 1971. Saheb’s family is among them. Seemapuri was then a wilderness. It still is, but it is no longer empty. In structures of mud, with roofs of tin and tarpaulin, devoid of sewage, drainage or running water, live 10,000 ragpickers.

 

Acquaintance - contact

periphery- outer area

metaphorically–symbolically

squatters - a person who unlawfully occupies an uninhabited building or unused land

wilderness- a wasteland

tarpaulin- heavy-duty waterproof cloth

 

The writer describes the area where these rag picker boys live. Seemapuri, located on the outskirt of Delhi was very different from the capital of the country. In 1971 when these rag pickers had migrated from Bangladesh, the area had been a wasteland. Seemapuri was still a wasteland but now it was not empty as almost ten thousand rag pickers lived there in structures made of mud, with roofs made of thin sheets of tin or plastic material called tarpaulin. There was no sewage, drainage or running water facility in Seemapuri. They lived in unhygienic conditions. It was a piece of wasteland where the garbage of the city was collected. These people had started living there illegally.

 

They have lived here for more than thirty years without an identity, without permits but with ration cards that get their names on voters’ lists and enable them to buy grain. Food is more important for survival than an identity. “If at the end of the day we can feed our families and go to bed without an aching stomach, we would rather live here than in the fields that gave us no grain,” say a group of women in tattered saris when I ask them why they left their beautiful land of green fields and rivers.

 

Permits – legal documents

Tattered – torn

 

The ragpickers had been living illegally in Seemapuri for the last thirty years. They have occupied the area without government permission or ownership. The politicians of the area have provided them ration cards and voter identity cards. They got grocery for their family through these ration cards and in return, they cast their votes in favour of the politician who had helped them. The writer asked a group of women who were wearing torn saris that why did they leave their homes in Dhaka. They replied that if they were able to satisfy the hunger of their families and sleep well at night, they were happier to live in Seemapuri than their fields in Dhaka which were ruined and gave them no food.

Wherever they find food, they pitch their tents that become transit homes. Children grow up in them, becoming partners in survival. And survival in Seemapuri means rag-picking. Through the years, it has acquired the proportions of a fine art. Garbage to them is gold. It is their daily bread, a roof over their heads, even if it is a leaking roof. But for a child it is even more.

 

Transit homes – a temporary home

 

These people travelled in search of food and wherever they found it, they set up temporary homes and started living there. Their children kept on growing there and gradually, they also started helping their parents in seeking means of survival. For those who lived in Seemapuri, the means of survival was rag picking. As they had been doing it for many years, they became trained at rag picking and did it well. For the rag pickers the garbage was as precious as gold. These families searched the garbage dumps and got things which they sold to fund their food. They gathered torn or damaged sheets which were used to cover the roof of their homes. These did not cover them well but still provided them with some protection. For the children, the garbage dumps were more than a means of survival.

 

score-high-english-board-exams

 

“I sometimes find a rupee, even a ten-rupee note,” Saheb says, his eyes lighting up. When you can find a silver coin in a heap of garbage, you don’t stop scrounging, for there is hope of finding more. It seems that for children, garbage has a meaning  different from what it means to their parents. For the children it is wrapped in wonder, for the elders it is a means of survival.

 

Lighting up – show joy and happiness

 

Saheb was happy to say that sometimes he found a rupee and even a ten – rupee note in the dump. As one often finds even a silver coin in the garbage dump, he kept on searching hoping to find more. For the children, the garbage dump was a means of fulfilling their dreams although partially while for their parents, it was a means of aiding survival by providing the basics - food, clothing and shelter.

 

 

One winter morning I see Saheb standing by the fenced gate of the neighbourhood club, watching two young men dressed in white, playing tennis. “I like the game,” he hums, content to watch it standing behind the fence. “I go inside when no one is around,” he admits. “The gatekeeper lets me use the swing.”

 

Content – satisfied

 

One winter morning the writer saw Saheb standing by the fence of a club. He was watching a tennis game being played by two young men. Saheb liked the game but could not play it. He told the writer that he went inside the club when it would be closed. He was allowed to take swings by the guard there.

 

Saheb too is wearing tennis shoes that look strange over his discoloured shirt and shorts. “Someone gave them to me,” he says in the manner of an explanation. The fact that they are discarded shoes of some rich boy, who perhaps refused to wear them because of a hole in one of them, does not bother him. For one who has walked barefoot, even shoes with a hole is a dream come true. But the game he is watching so intently is out of his reach.

 

Discarded – thrown away

Bother – worry

 

The writer saw that Saheb was also wearing tennis shoes. They did not look appropriate with his dress which was worn out and had faded. He told the writer in an attempt to justify himself that someone gave him the shoes. She however figured out that he had got them from a garbage dump. They must have been thrown away by a boy from a rich family as he did not want to wear them anymore. Probably they had a hole or two in them due to which he did not want to wear them. On the contrary, Saheb was not bothered by this fact and had no problem wearing them as he could not afford anything better than that. He walked barefoot and to wear a shoe even with a hole was like a dream for him. Although due to the garbage dump, Saheb’s dream of wearing shoes had been partially fulfilled but his desire to play tennis would never be fulfilled.

 

This morning, Saheb is on his way to the milk booth. In his hand is a steel canister. “I now work in a tea stall down the road,” he says, pointing in the distance. “I am paid 800 rupees and all my meals.” Does he like the job? I ask. His face, I see, has lost the carefree look. The steel canister seems heavier than the plastic bag he would carry so

 

light over his shoulder. The bag was his. The canister belongs to the man who owns the tea shop. Saheb is no longer his own master.

 

One morning the writer met Saheb who was on his way to the milk booth. He was holding a steel container. He told her that he had got a job at the nearby tea stall. He would earn eight hundred rupees a month and get meals too. The writer asked him if he liked the job as she could see that he had lost the carefree look. As now Saheb was working for someone else and was carrying his master’s container, he was burdened with responsibility. Earlier, as a rag picker, Saheb would carry his own bag and was his own master. Now, he was no longer his own master.

 

Story 2 - “I want to drive a car”

 

 

Mukesh insists on being his own master. “I will be a motor mechanic,” he announces.

 

The writer met a boy named Mukesh who aspired to become a motor mechanic.

 

“Do you know anything about cars?” I ask.

 

She asked him if he knew anything about cars.

 

“I will learn to drive a car,” he answers, looking straight into my eyes. His dream looms like a mirage amidst the dust of streets that fill his town Firozabad, famous for its bangles. Every other family in Firozabad is engaged in making bangles. It is the centre of India’s glass-blowing industry where families have spent generations working around furnaces, welding glass, making bangles for all the women in the land it seems.

 

looking straight into my eyes – with confidence and determination

looms like a mirage - seems that it will be true in the future but actually it will not be so

amidst – in the middle of

glass-blowing industry - industry related to making glass

furnaces - a closed room or container where heat is produced

welding - the process of joining metal or glass pieces by heating them

 

The boy was confident and replied that he would learn to drive a car. His dream was far away from reality and although the boy was confident, he would succumb to the societal pressures. He lived in Firozabad which was famous for glass bangles. The writer felt that the boy’s dreams would not materialize and gradually get influenced by the dusty streets of Firozabad. She wanted to say that as every family in the town of Firozabad was involved in the glass bangle industry, so would Mukesh do with the passage of time. She tells us that Firozabad was the main town of India for the glass – blowing industry. The families had been involved in working at furnaces, welding glass, and making bangles for generations. They made so many bangles that it seemed that they made bangles for all the women of the world.

 

Mukesh’s family is among them. None of them know that it is illegal for children like him to work in the glass furnaces with high temperatures, in dingy cells without air and light; that the law, if enforced, could get him and all those 20,000 children out of the hot furnaces where they slog their daylight hours, often losing the brightness of their eyes.

Dingy – dark, dim

Slog – work hard

Daylight hours - hours of the day when there is sunlight

Brightness of their eyes - here, refers to the power to see

 

Mukesh’s family was also involved in the profession of glass bangle – making. They were not aware of the law. They did not know that it was unlawful to force children to work in such glass furnaces. The work places were hot, dark closed rooms without ventilation. The writer felt that if the law would come into force, it would rescue almost twenty thousand children from these inhuman places where they were forced to work hard during the daytime. They often ended up losing their eyesight also.

 

Mukesh’s eyes beam as he volunteers to take me home, which he proudly says is being rebuilt. We walk down stinking lanes choked with garbage, past homes that remain hovels with crumbling walls, wobbly doors, no windows, crowded with families of humans and animals coexisting in a primeval state. He stops at the door of one such house, bangs a wobbly iron door with his foot, and pushes it open.

 

Beam – shine brightly

Volunteers - freely offers to do something

Stinking – bad smell

Choked – blocked

Hovels – slums

Crumbling – falling down

Wobbly – unsteady

Coexisting - present at the same time and place

Primeval – prehistoric

Bangs – hits

 

Mukesh was happy as he took the writer to his home. He felt proud as he informed her that it was being renovated. They walked down streets which were full of garbage and gave foul smell. The streets were lined with slums which were unsteady. The walls were falling apart, the doors were unsteady, there were no windows and were full of families where people lived along with animals. They reminded the writer of the prehistoric man who lived just like animals. Mukesh stopped in front of one such door, hit it hard with his foot and pushed it open.

 

We enter a half-built shack. In one part of it, thatched with dead grass, is a firewood stove over which sits a large vessel of sizzling spinach leaves. On the ground, in large aluminium platters, are more chopped vegetables. A frail young woman is cooking the evening meal for the whole family. Through eyes filled with smoke she smiles. She is the wife of Mukesh’s elder brother. Not much older in years, she has begun to command respect as the bahu, the daughter-in-law of the house, already in charge of three men — her husband, Mukesh and their father.

 

Shack – a roughly built hut

Thatched – covered with dry grass

Vessel – container for cooking food

Sizzling - make a hissing sound when frying or cooking

 

Platters – large plates

Chopped – cut finely

Frail – thin, weak

eyes filled with smoke - her eyes are filled with the smoke coming out of the firewood stove

command respect - she is worthy and so, is respected

 

The house where Mukesh lived was partially constructed hut. In one corner was a firewood stove made with dead grass. A vessel with spinach leaves was kept on it. on the ground There were more plates with chopped vegetables in them. There was a thin, young woman cooking the evening meal for the family. Her eyes were full of the smoke emanating from the stove but she was still cheerful and smiled to see the writer. She was the wife of Mukesh’s elder brother. Although she was not much older than Mukesh, she was a responsible person and was worthy to get respect from the family as the daughter-in-law of the family. She took care of three men – her husband, Mukesh and their father.

 

When the older man enters, she gently withdraws behind the broken wall and brings her veil closer to her face. As custom demands, daughters-in-law must veil their faces before male elders. In this case the elder is an impoverished bangle maker. Despite long years of hard labour, first as a tailor, then a bangle maker, he has failed to renovate a house, send his two sons to school. All he has managed to do is teach them what he knows — the art of making bangles.

Withdraws – goes back

Veil - a piece of fine material worn by women to protect or hide the face, cover or hide

Impoverished – very poor

Labour – hard work

Renovate - repair

 

 

As Mukesh’s father entered the house, the daughter-in-law hid behind the wall and covered her face behind her veil. It was a tradition for the daughter-in-laws to hide their face in the presence of the older male members of the family. The elder here was a poor bangle maker. He had worked hard all his life – first as a tailor, then as a bangle maker. He was still not able to either renovate the house or send his sons to school. He had just managed to teach him the skill of making bangles.

 

“It is his karam, his destiny,” says Mukesh’s grandmother, who has watched her own husband go blind with the dust from polishing the glass of bangles. “Can a god-given lineage ever be broken?” she implies.

 

Destiny – fate

God-given lineage - here, a profession carried on through the generations of a family – glass bangle making

 

Mukesh’s grandmother justified her son by saying that he was destined to make bangles as it had been their family profession. She had seen her husband become blind due to the dust from polishing the glass bangles. She said that their family had got this art of bangle making from God and so they had to carry on the tradition.

Born in the caste of bangle makers, they have seen nothing but bangles —  in the house, in the yard, in every other house, every other yard, every street in Firozabad. Spirals of bangles — sunny gold, paddy green, royal blue, pink, purple, every colour born out of the seven colours of the rainbow — lie in mounds in unkempt yards, are piled on four-wheeled handcarts, pushed by young men along the narrow lanes of the shanty town.

 

Yard – the open area at the back of the house

Mounds – heaps

Unkempt – not taken care of

Piled – kept one on top of the other

Shanty town - a town that is full of small, roughly built huts

 

They were born in a particular caste which had to follow the profession of bangle making. All their life they had just seen these glass bangles. They were everywhere – in the backyard, in the next house, in their yard and even in the streets of the town. There were huge spiral bunches of bangles in different colours like gold, green, blue, pink, purple. There were bangles of all the colours of the rainbow. Further, the writer says that there were bangles in the neglected yards also. They were dumped on handcarts for sale. They were pushed by men along the streets of Firozabad.

And in dark hutments, next to lines of flames of flickering oil lamps, sit boys and girls with their fathers and mothers, welding pieces of coloured glass into circles of bangles. Their eyes are more adjusted to the dark than to the light outside. That is why they often end up losing their eyesight before they become adults.

 

Welding – joining

 

The writer describes the environment where these bangle makers work. They were small, dark huts. The children would sit next to a line of oil lamps whose flames were unsteady. They, along with their parents joined the pieces of coloured glass into circles called bangles. As they spent a lot of time in the dark, their eyes would not adapt to the bright sunlight. Many of them lost their eyesight before gaining adulthood.

 

  

 

Savita, a young girl in a drab pink dress, sits alongside an elderly woman, soldering pieces of glass. As her hands move mechanically like the tongs of a machine, I wonder if she knows the sanctity of the bangles she helps make. It symbolises an Indian woman’s suhaag, auspiciousness in marriage.

 

Drab – faded, colourless

Soldering – joining

Tongs - an instrument with two moveable arms joined at one end

Sanctity - the state of being sacred or holy

Auspiciousness – good omen

 

There was a young girl by the name of Savita. She wore a faded pink coloured dress. She was sitting with an elderly woman and they were joining pieces of glass to make bangles. Her hands moved like a machine just like the tongs of a machine. The writer wondered if Savita knew that bangles were sacred. They were a good omen for a woman’s wifehood.

 

It will dawn on her suddenly one day when her head is draped with a red veil, her hands dyed red with henna, and red bangles rolled onto her wrists. She will then become a bride. Like the old woman beside her who became one many years ago. She still has bangles on her wrist, but no light in her eyes.

 

Dawn on her – she will realize

Draped - covered

 

She thought that Savita would realize this when she would become a bride. That day she would cover her head with a red coloured veil, colour her hands with henna and wear red coloured bangles on her wrist. The elderly woman sitting next to Savita also became a bride many years ago. She was still wearing the glass bangles but had lost her eyesight now.

 

“Ek waqt ser bhar khana bhi nahin khaya,” she says, in a voice drained of joy. She has not enjoyed even one full meal in her entire lifetime — that’s what she has reaped! Her husband, an old man with a flowing beard, says, “I know nothing except bangles. All I have done is make a house for the family to live in.”

 

Ser – a unit of measuring quantity

Reaped – received as a benefit

 

The elderly woman complained that she had not eaten even a ser of food. Ser is a unit of measuring quantity. The woman wants to say that they are so poor that they cannot eat enough food. That is the benefit that she has received by adopting the profession of bangle-making. The woman’s husband has a flowing beard. He says that he does not know anything other than bangle – making. All that he has been able to accomplish is to make a house for his family to live in.

 

Hearing him, one wonders if he has achieved what many have failed in their lifetime. He has a roof over his head!

 

The writer wonders that probably the old man has achieved something which many other people have not been able to achieve. At least he has been able to secure a shelter for his family.

 

The cry of not having money to do anything except carry on the business of making bangles, not even enough to eat, rings in every home. The young men echo the lament of their elders. Little has moved with time, it seems, in Firozabad. Years of mind-numbing toil have killed all initiative and the ability to dream.

 

Rings – a sound which is repeated

Echo – repeat

Lament – complaint

Mind – numbing – boring

Toil – physical hard work done to earn a living

 

This problem was prevalent in all the homes which carried on the profession. They did not know anything else other than bangle-making and it did not even provide them enough to eat. The young men who had entered the traditional profession also had the same complaint. With the passing time there was no improvement in their condition. As they had been doing hard work for countless number of years, they did not have any ability to do something else or to dream of it.

 

“Why not organise yourselves into a cooperative?” I ask a group of young men who have fallen into the vicious circle of middlemen who trapped their fathers and forefathers. “Even if we get organised, we are the ones who will be hauled up by the police, beaten and dragged to jail for doing something illegal,” they say. There is no leader among them, no one who could help them see things differently. Their fathers are as tired as they are.

 

Vicious – cruel

Hauled up – dragged, taken away

 

The writer suggests them to form a cooperative. She talked to a group of young men to get out of the clutches of the cruel middlemen who had trapped their elders. The men said that if they dared to do something like that, they would be dragged and beaten up by the police and sent to jail. Their acts would be termed to be unlawful. The writer felt that as they had no leader, they could not think of doing things differently. They all were so tired – the men and their fathers.

 

They talk endlessly in a spiral that moves poverty to apathy to greed and to injustice. Listening to them, I see two distinct worlds — one of the family, caught in a web of poverty, burdened by the stigma of caste in which they are born; the other a vicious circle of the sahukars, the middlemen, the policemen, the keepers of law, the bureaucrats and the politicians. Together they have imposed the baggage on the child that he cannot put down. Before he is aware, he accepts it as naturally as his father. To do anything else would mean to dare.

 

Spiral – here, a never-ending continuous process

Apathy – lack of concern

Greed – intense and selfish desire for something

Distinct – separate

Stigma – dishonor

Bureaucrats – government officials

Imposed – forced upon

Baggage – burden

To dare – do something courageous

 

The men complained that it was a continuous process. Their poor condition led to lack of concern for their problems. This made them greedy and led to injustice. The writer envisioned that there were two separate worlds – one was of such families who were stuck in poverty and the pressure of doing the traditional profession according to the caste in which they were born. The other world is a never-ending cycle of moneylenders, middlemen, policemen, law keepers, government officials and politicians. Both of these worlds had forced the young boys to follow the family traditions. The young boys get into the profession and become a part of the vicious cycle even before they realize it. If they did anything else, it meant that they were challenging these two worlds.

 

And daring is not part of his growing up. When I sense a flash of it in Mukesh I am cheered. “I want to be a motor mechanic,’ he repeats. He will go to a garage and learn. But the garage is a long way from his home. “I will walk,” he insists. “Do you also dream of flying a plane?” He is suddenly silent. “No,” he says, staring at the ground. In his small murmur there is an embarrassment that has not yet turned into regret. He is content to dream of cars that he sees hurtling down the streets of his town. Few airplanes fly over Firozabad.

 

Hurtling down – moving around

 

The boys had not been reared up to be bold so that they could dare to go against the system. The writer was happy to sense that Mukesh had the spark in him. He repeated that he would be a motor mechanic. He wanted to go to a garage and learn the job. The writer asked that as the garage was at a distance from his home, Mukesh insisted that he would walk up to it. She asked him if he dreamt of flying planes. The boy became silent and refused. He did not know about them as he did not know about planes. Not many planes flew over Firozabad. As he had only seen cars moving around in Firozabad, his dreams were restricted up to them.

 

 

Summary

The author tells us stories of her interactions with children from deprived backgrounds. She describes their poor condition and life in an interesting manner. The story touches the reader and is thought provoking.

The author described two of her encounters with children from deprived backgrounds. Through them she wants to highlight the plight of street children forced into labour early in life and are denied the opportunity of schooling. Also, she brings out the callousness of society and the political class towards the sufferings of the poor. The first encounter is with a rag picker boy named Saheb – E – Alam who migrated from Bangladesh in 1971 and lives in Seemapuri in Delhi. These ragpicker children look for ‘valuables’ in the garbage – things like a coin or torn shoes which are as precious as ‘gold’ for them.

They could hardly manage some food for themselves, other things like identity, education, shoes and sports are their unfulfilled dreams. Their parents scrounged the garbage searching for things which helped them survive – afford food, clothing and shelter for the family. The children hunted through the garbage heaps looking for things which could partially fulfil their unfulfilled dreams.  

One day the writer saw the boy, holding a steel can, going towards the milk booth. He had got a job at a tea stall. He was happy that he would get eight hundred rupees and all the meals. The writer noticed that Saheb had lost the freedom of being his own master which he had enjoyed as a rag picker.

The second boy was Mukesh who belonged to a family of bangle makers in Firozabad. The boy had a dream of becoming a car mechanic. On the contrary, his family was traditionally engaged in bangle making, although the profession harmed them physically and they hardly earned any money out of it.

Still, no one dared to dream of doing something else due to the fear of the police and the middlemen. The family elders were content that other than teaching the art of bangle – making to their children, they had been able to build them a house to live in. The boy wanted to be a car mechanic. Cars were all that Mukesh had seen on the roads of his town and so, he could not dream any further.

 

Think as you read

1. What is Saheb looking for in the garbage dumps? Where is he and where has he come from?

A. Saheb is looking for any precious thing which he cannot afford to buy. Things like a rupee, silver coin or a pair of shoes. He has come to the garbage dump in the writer’s neighbourhood. He lives in Seemapuri in Delhi and has come from Dhaka.

 

2. What explanations does the author offer for the children not wearing footwear?

A. The author says that they do not wear footwear because it is a tradition in their families to remain barefoot.

 

3. Is Saheb happy working at the tea-stall? Explain.

A. Saheb is happy that he has got work at the tea stall. He will get eight hundred rupees every month and his meals too.

 

4. What makes the city of Firozabad famous?

A. Firozabad is famous for glass blowing industry.

 

5. Mention the hazards of working in the glass bangles industry.

A. People who work in the glass bangle industry lose their eyesight.

 

6. How is Mukesh’s attitude to his situation different from that of his family?

A. Mukesh dares to dream and has a way out of his situation. He aspires to become a motor mechanic. On the other hand, his family does not dare to dream. They are too tired and scared to do something to come out of their grim situation.

 

Understanding the text

Q1. What could be some of the reasons for the migration of people from villages to cities?

A. People migrate from villages to cities in search of a better life. They want to earn money so that they can lead a good life and rear their children in a better way. As cities have more opportunities for work, this makes them migrate from the villages to these big cities.

 

Q2. Would you agree that promises made to poor children are rarely kept? Why do you think this happens in the incidents narrated in the text?

A. Yes, I agree that the promises made to poor children are rarely fulfilled. In the story the writer jokingly offers the rag picker boy to join a school that she would open. In fact, she does not intend to open a school. She speaks mindlessly but the boy takes it to be true and later asks her if the school has opened. There are many such hollow promises in the boy’s life because the person who makes the promise never intends to fulfil it.

 

Q3. What forces conspire to keep the workers in the bangle industry of Firozabad in poverty?

A. The writer tells us that the bangle – makers of Firozabad are poverty – stricken. They are burdened by the fact of the particular caste in which they are born – bangle – makers. They have to continue the traditional profession. Further, the society has formed a harsh circle around them. The money – lenders, middlemen, policemen, law – keepers, officers and politicians altogether form a barrier around them and tie them in the grip of poverty. They cannot escape from it.

 

Q4. How, in your opinion, can Mukesh realise his dream?

A. Mukesh dared to dream and wanted to become a motor mechanic. He wanted to drive cars too. He took the initial step by aspiring to do something different from the family business. I think that Mukesh can realize his dream with determination and hard work.

 

Q5. Mention the hazards of working in the glass bangles industry.

A. The poor bangle makers in Firozabad work in dangerous conditions. The furnaces have very high temperatures and no ventilation. Hence, they are prone to ailments like lung cancer. While polishing the bangles, the dust harms their eyes and many lose their vision. They remain in dark for long hours and so are unable to see during the daytime.

 

Q6. Why should child labour be eliminated and how?

A. Forcing a child to work is a crime. This is so in order to prevent exploitation of children. If forced to work, Children cannot enjoy their childhood. They cannot get proper education. Also, when they are forced into hazardous works, they get ailments at a young age. This destroys their future. Their parents overlook all these facts as they need money. So, the government has to become proactive and take measures to check child labour and enforce the law strictly.

 

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