Koyambedu bus stand was humming with activity. My bus to Bangalore starts at 730 am. I virtually ran to get into the bus at the nick of the time. I found a young boy of 11 years sitting on the window seat that was earmarked for me. I did not mind though he made no request for switching the seat. I deposited my bag in the overhead cabin before sitting on the aisle seat. He was in shorts and a colourful T shirt. He was busy watching through the window the vast array of buses and passengers with bags rushing to them.
When he turned to look at me, I smiled and asked him, “Are you travelling to Bangalore alone?”
He nodded his head and said to my surprise, “Can I sit in the window seat. I like watching the small towns and villages.”
I was happy that he sought my permission and said, “You can sit. What is your name? Do you belong to Bangalore?”
“No, I live in Chennai. My name is Rishab.” he said and started looking out.
“Do you like cricket?” I asked and he vigorously nodded his head in affirmative.
Intrigued by the fact it was mid-week and there was no vacation, I asked him, “Do you have relatives there? Which part of Bangalore you are going to?”
When he kept silent, I prodded him telling that he had not answered my question.
He looked at my face and said calmly without any emotion,” I have no one there. I do not know where I will be going at Bangalore.”
Why would a boy go to a place where no one known to him was there unless he was running away from home, I thought?
“Are you running away from your home?” I asked bluntly. “It is dangerous to be alone at an unknown city. Where did you get the money for buying the ticket in this Volvo bus? Tell me the truth. I am worried about you.” I asked in disbelief.
He did not answer.” Alright we can continue the conversation after breakfast,” I said. The bus stopped at a way side restaurant. “Come along, we will have our breakfast,” I said and when he did not get up, I pulled him up and said, “Do not bother about money.”
The boy was relaxed after the breakfast and in a mood to talk. I did not pursue the conversation wantonly for some time. After one hour, I told him, “I want you to be truthful. Why did you run away from home? What is the problem? Your parents must be worried now about you. Did you fail in your class?”
“No, I ran away. I did not want to stay there any longer. I am not happy there. My father keeps touring for large part of the month and hardly talks to me when in station. My step mother though not cruel is disinterested and busy with her friends and social circle.,” he replied.
“You are foolish. The world outside is wicked and very soon without any protection of home, you will be thick in all vicious activities,” I warned him. “Where do you intend going to at Bangalore? I hope not live at the station as another rag-picker?”
“Malleswaram.One of my friends, Shammanna, lives there. We studied together till last year.”
“Do you know where he lives in Malleswaram or the name of his father?”
He kept mum as he had no answer.
“Do not worry. After we reach Bangalore, I will talk to your father. Do not be scared. I will ensure no harm comes to you. You can stay with me.
I felt sultry despite the cool bus and was restless by the thought a young child driven to such foolish step by uncaring parents.
“It is hot. Have this fruit juice,” I offered one of the two I took from my bag. Sleep for a while till the bus stops for lunch.”
It was almost 2pm when the bus entered the Central bus stand opposite Bangalore city station. As we alighted from the bus stop, I heard a voice hailing the boy by a loud “Rishab”.I saw an elderly gentleman in silk kurta and dhoti along with his wife in silk sari with a driver in white uniform. They looked affluent.
The boy turned in that direction and shouted aloud,” Thatha, Patti, one second, I will be with you with my bag.”
“How was your first bus trip alone? Your mom rang me up at least half a dozen times enquiring whether you had reached safely,” his grandpa said and turning to driver asked him to take the bag from the boy.
Pointing at me, the boy said “Thatha, this uncle who was seated by my side was very nice and concerned asking me lot of caring questions and bought for me my breakfast snacks and fruit juice. He gave me window seat,” and added as if to assuage me,“Amma had specifically asked me not to talk to strangers and give personal details.”
Shocked and in disbelief, I saw the boy walking along with his grandparents towards the big Toyota till he shouted with a mischievous wink from a distance,” Thank you uncle for all the help. I am going to Malleswaram.”