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A Letter From Block A, Connaught Place: ‘Maybe my siblings can go to school… I will do this for life’

Numbers he knows from selling trinkets, alphabets from street signs around him, life from a lifetime spent on the streets. As the Delhi govt plans a boarding school for streetchildren, a 13-year-old expects that to be the sum of his education

Connaught Place, Block ‘A’ of Connaught Place, Delhi government, street children, children on streets, Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi budget, New Delhi Municipal Council, Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister Manish Sisodia, Delhi, Delhi latest news, indian express“People ask me about school, take our number. They don’t call back.” (Abhinaya Harigovind)

Trying to hawk a bunch of head scratchers he is clutching, he gestures towards the green sign marking Block ‘A’ of Connaught Place. “I know some of the alphabets because of these blocks. See, this is Block A, then there is B, C and D. I also know some numbers, that’s all.”

The 13-year-old who has spent almost his entire life on footpaths, in the shadows of the Capital’s glitziest shops, at the heart of the country’s seat of power, is among the children the Delhi government aims to put in a boarding school. The initiative for streetchildren, with a provision of Rs 10 crore, was announced by the Arvind Kejriwal government as part of the recent budget.

The 13-year-old has never been to school, and says he doesn’t see himself ever going to one. “I have three sisters and a brother. My elder sister and I must earn, and maybe our younger siblings can go to school,” he says. “I will do this for the rest of my life.”

This earns a sharp rebuke from his 10-year-old, school-going cousin, who is selling glass bottles with lights stuffed in them. “Yeh maal bechke zindagi bana lega (You will make a life out of selling this stuff)?” he asks. “Bana lega (Yes),” shoots back the 13-year-old.

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The boy started off selling balloons, progressed to airplanes that whir a little distance up into the air, before moving on to selling head scratchers by day and glass bottles by night. He says he has been doing this for the past six months or so, after the airplanes became “too expensive”. Depending on the customer, the 13-year-old admits sheepishly, he can sell a head scratcher for anything between Rs 50 and Rs 100.

Like his cousin, his siblings and parents also sell similar trinkets across Connaught Place and nearby areas.

The cousin in school dreams of becoming a policeman someday, and hopes to own a car like one parked nearby. “He thinks of these things, not me,” the 13-year-old shrugs.

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While they are talking, the two spot a stern New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) staffer headed towards them, and both take to their heels. However, the official manages to catch up, and pulls the two up for trying to sell their wares at a place where it is prohibited.

The official gone, the boys stroll over to a touchscreen interface set up by the NDMC on a pavement with information on the city, its tourist sites, and services offered by the NDMC. They fiddle with the screen for a few minutes, jabbing at the coloured squares, not able to read the words on them.

“We’ll walk around here, and then go back to the block when the NDMC people have gone away. They will either take away what we’re trying to sell, or ask us to pay a fine,” says the experienced 13-year-old.

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It’s 5 pm on Friday, when Connaught Place is bustling, and the two boys, who have been at the block since around 2 pm, expect another four hours of business before returning to a shelter at Paharganj, around 3 km away, for the night. The family, originally from Kolhapur, Maharashtra, has been living at the shelter for a few years now, he says.

A good day’s work day means Rs 800- Rs 900, the 13-year-old explains. “If we fool around, we make only Rs 50-Rs 100.”

Announcing the boarding school for children from homeless families, Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister Manish Sisodia said, “These schools will facilitate the children to live, along with education, and try to bring them into the mainstream.”

The 13-year-old says others have offered him schooling before. “People have asked me about it. Somebody came and took my father’s number too. But they never called.”

As evening sets in, the 13-year-old swaps the head scratchers for lit-up glass bottles, the same as his cousin is carrying, and heads for nearby Janpath Market. His father purchased the same from Sadar Bazaar in the morning, like all the stuff they sell. “The bottles sell well at night,” he says, for around Rs 100 each.

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On the way to Janpath, the boys stop for rest outside Palika Bazaar, but are shooed away by a person, who threatens to break the bottles.

Clinking as the boys walk carrying them, some slung over their shoulder, others in their hands, the bottles turn some heads. However, even as the two walk up and down the market trying to sell them, more people stop just to have a look at the lights and then carry on. When the 13-year-old lingers for a while in front of a stall, the shopkeeper asks him to move somewhere else.

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Close to 8 pm, he has sold enough bottles to have one hand free. The 13-year-old throws it over his cousin’s shoulder, and the two melt away into the crowded street.

First published on: 03-04-2022 at 04:14:46 am
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