The children’s hour

Suketu Mehta had planned to set up a legal defense fund for children, which is up and running in conjunction with CRY. Go visit. Hang around the site for a bit. See what you can do to help. (Link via Zigzackly.

One Bombay morning, walking on the road leading to the Strand bookstore, I saw a little family: A mother, with wild and ragged hair, walking with a baby boy, maybe a year old, fast asleep on her shoulder, leading by the hand another boy, maybe four or five, the boy rubbing his eyes with the fist of his free hand. He was walking the way children walk when they have been walking a long time; his legs jerking outward, his head nodding in a circle, to beat the monotony, to beat the tiredness. They were all barefoot. They might have been walking like this for hours. The mother said something gentle to the older boy, still clutching fast to her hand. I had walked past them, but then I had to stop. They came up to a stall, and, as I expected, the mother held out her hand. The stall owner did nothing, didn’t acknowledge them. Automatically I found myself opening my wallet. I looked for a ten, then took out a fifty instead, and walked up very fast up to them, my insides raging, and thrust the fifty in her hand, ?Yes, take this,? and walked on without looking back, till I got to the air-conditioned bookstore and then stood in a corner and shut my eyes.
The identification with my own family was so strong – I have two young sons too – that I started constructing a past and a future for them. Probably they would have walked like that all day long, all barefoot in the heat. A hundred times a day the boys would have seen their mother hold out her hand to beg. A hundred people would be watched by the clear eyes of the boys as they cursed their mother, told her to move on, or threw some change at her. And still she would carry them on her shoulder when they were tired. Sometimes she might put them down in the dirt and then they would eat a little rice or sleep where they were from tiredness….
…I got home that evening and was more tired than I’d ever been in Bombay. The previous evening I had come home from a small party of billionaires, people richer than I’d ever met in New York. The discordance had got to me now. But my direction had been made suddenly very clear: I wanted to find the one thing that will help that one mother on the road get her kids off the footpath. I do not want her to have to beg. I want the little one to sleep on a clean mattress in a clean room. I want the older one to be able to realize the possibilities of his mind, to dream and to hope.

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