Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Freedom with hunger

It was some small town in the interior Madhya Pradesh. As a travelling representative I was moving from one town to another along with my junior salesman. I stopped the vehicle to have some refreshments at what appeared a big sweet stall. We ordered Alu parotta with a side dish and curd. A small boy of 13 year old soon appeared with two plates along with two tall glasses of water. He didn’t move but lingered..He was emaciated with sunken cheeks and looked underfed and overworked. There was a lost look in his face His eyes were swollen possibly from a beating he had had and there was a frightened look. I told my colleague in Tamil “I think this boy is being illtreated.See his black eye. I pity this boy.” As the boy heard me speak he asked in broken Tamil “Are you from Tamilnadu?” I said “Yes, how are you here in this far off place? What has happened to your eye?”The owner looking at the boy talking shouted “Hey, Chotu, come here. Carry this chai to the table on the right extreme.” As he was leaving he said that he was not allowed to talk to customers and that he was a slave here. In order to know more, I asked him to bring two plates of kachoris.When he brought the kachoris I told him to bring two glasses of lassi and when we had gone out to meet us outside. Come out on some pretext. He nodded his head and left.
When we were waiting in the car, the boy came silently. I asked him to get into the car lest he be seen with us. Prompted to tell his story, he had this to say amidst intermittent sobs.
“My name is Rajan.My father and mother came here several years ago on a promise of a good job. He was given some advance of ten thousand to settle his debts in the village. It was only after they came here, they came to know to their shock, they were cheated and brought here as coolies to work in their quarry. The advance was treated as a loan at a usurious rate of interest and the wages were adjusted against the interest. In other words they were working free with only Spartan food twice a day. They were new to the place and the language .They were told they were slaves till such time they repaid the loan which was not possible without any income. It was an arduous work in the hot sun from which no redemption was in sight. Meanwhile they had two children my elder sister and me. My mom fell sick unable to tolerate the dust in the quarry. She died after a few years without any treatment worth the name. My sister when she grew to be thirteen was sexually abused by the owner repeatedly till one day unable to bear the shame and torture, she committed suicide by jumping into a well. My dad did not recover from the shock and had pain in the chest frequently. He was not allowed rest and made to do hard work that one day, he collapsed in the quarry and died. I was then shifted to the sweetshop where I work from 4am to 12 midnight. Except the food no payment is made. I am being beat mercilessly on the smallest excuse. I wish to run away but I cannot as owner’s men are all around keeping a watchful eye on me and other boys here. The other boys are from nearby places.”
I asked him whether he was willing to come away with me. When he agreed we drove away with side screens drawn. We reached Bhopal in the evening.I asked the boy who was happy with the new found freedom what he wished to do and whether he had any relatives in his village. He was not aware of even the name of the village. He expressed a wish to go to Chennai and eke out his livelihood by joining a hotel as a server. I got him a couple of T-shirts and pants, a ticket for Chennai and gave him three hundred rupees. I told him “Chennai is a big town and he may be cheated and drawn into bad activities. Safeguard the freedom won and join a hotel soon. Take care not to fall into bad company.”
I forgot the boy there after. It was six months later I had a few hours halt at Chennai on my way to Madurai. My brother was working as an inspector of police I the city. As his wife was away at her mom’s place, I went to meet him at the police station. He was interrogating a boy who was in handcuffs. The boy was slouching avoiding the boxing from the constables .I could not see his face. When my brother saw me, he asked the constables to take the boy away. It was then I had a glimpse of the boy.”Rajan”, I called out, “how come you are here? Have you not found a job in a hotel?”The boy hearing my voice fell down at my feet and started crying as he said “Sir, You cautioned me Still I have become a bad boy. I did not get any job. I had spent the money you gave on food. Nobody is willing to give me work .I even begged for food. For the first time I picked somebody’s pocket and was caught. The slavery with food is preferable than freedom with hunger. I wish I had not left that place.”
I narrated to my brother about the incident and asked him whether he can find a job for this boy who had undergone suffering and hardship all through his life. He readily agreed to keep Rajan with him in his house. Being the first offense with the purse retrieved and no loss of money, he was excused. But his pleading with me that slavery with food was better than freedom in hunger kept ringing in my ears all through the day.


  1. Yes, the pangs of hunger can make people do things they would otherwise shun. Poverty is a curse in our society. Rajan was ultimately lucky to find shelter. The people who mercilessly beat others should stop to think the sin they are commiting. One day they have to pay for it: time sees to it.

    The story is well-written and conveys a strong social message. Thanks, KP.

  2. The boy was lucky , there are so many who go through the same fate unable to recover all thru their life. A very well written story.

  3. Its very true that deceit towards one leads the same to the path of crime due to desperation. If only the little boy received a tenny bit of kindness and an offer, he wouldnt have resorted to such tactics. Its true that society due to their callousness many a time give rise to vengence and create criminals even out of those who want to do good for the society.

  4. 'There is hunger for ordinary bread, and there is hunger for love, for kindness, for thoughtfulness...' said Mother Theresa. I wonder if that young boy was looking for work or for love and kindness and lost his way in the world when he found neither!After all the boy came away from the bonded labour because he hoped to get the same kindness and love from the people of Chennai that he got from the narrator.
    A thought-provoking article, Partha !

  5. sorry for the delay. exams kept me away. thank you for the story sir. as always, well written, with a message, and thought provoking

  6. Very touching story! as Ovaiyar said, "Illamailyial Varumai kodithu"
    Poverty in childhood is really worse...a different story from you sir.