City Life – The Joys of Childhood

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The Joys of Childhood

Two in 13 million.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Mr Haroun (right), 11, and Mr Rahul, 12, sleep on a footpath near Oberoi flyover. The Delhi Walla caught up with them in Qureshi hotel, a no-fuss eatery near Kalan Masjid in Nizamuddin Basti. They were supping on salan and rotis.

Unable to read or write, Mr Rahul could still recite the complete count from one to hundred while Mr Haroun could do that till the figure of eighty. It was not surprising since they do not go to school. Instead, the boys earn money by collecting empty mineral water bottles from garbage bins in Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station. There the cops often hush them away with accusations of petty theft. “But I tell the police that I’m not a chor,” said Mr Haroun. He had fresh injuries on his left cheek, which, he said, had resulted from a street fight with another footpath boy.

Mr Haroun, who had no plans to dress his wound, lives with Mr Rahul. They both belong to a same village in the Darbhanga district of Bihar. Around two years ago, they came unescorted to Delhi as ticketless passengers in an express train. Their parents stayed back.

“We reached here in August,” remembered Mr Haroun. “Everyone was then flying kites.” (During that time of the year, kite flying becomes a craze in Delhi rooftops.)

It was not clear if the boys missed their village. “Life is better here, there’re no jungles and you don’t hear the cry of jackals or ghosts at night,” said Mr Rahul who took on this name after the screen name of a favorite film hero.

Both the boys are film buffs. Even though making no more than Rs 50 each daily, they do not mind spending some of that in watching VCDs at film parlours in Nizamuddin Basti.

When new in Delhi, they had gone to Golcha theater in Daryaganj to watch the blockbuster Om Shanti Om. “I loved the songs and the fights,” said Mr Haroun whose idol is Shah Rukh Khan. However, cinema halls remain a luxury and the last time the duo went to one was at Delite cinema in Aruna Asaf Ali Road to watch Harry Potter. “We saw the 6th bhaag,” said Mr Rahul referring to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, “but the tickets at Rs 40 were very expensive.” Perhaps it was worth it. Mr Haroun loved the movie. “I laughed when they thrashed the bhoot in the end,” he said.

Racing through a life muddled with with garbage bins, abusive cops, Bollywood flicks, pavement beds, and street squabbles, these two children have somehow found time to think on the possibilities of another world.

“I want to be a good man,” said Mr Haroun. On further prodding, he said he would not mind being a doctor. Mr Rahul fancied himself as a teacher. “Then you would have to read daily and so you would end up learning something,” he said.

Mr Haroun’s wound

The Joys of Childhood

Such is life

The Joys of Childhood