Four-year-old Pokayya squeals excitedly as his father Sapan Das, a truck cleaner from Tarkeshwar in Kolkata, tickles him in the ribs. An instant later, he watches quietly as his mother Tuktuki wipes her tears. The 23-year-old mother’s head is bent throughout the hour-long talk at a Pune orphanage where the family was reunited on Wednesday with their son who had been missing for a month now.
“Do you know what could have happened to your child? Had he fallen in the wrong hands, the child would have been blinded or disfigured to beg on the roads,” chides Madhuri Abhyankar, director of Society of Friends of Sassoon General Hospital that runs Shree Vatsa, a child care centre in Pune.
The tale of lost and found began when the young couple had a fight one day in April. Sapan Das had consumed alcohol and hit his wife after a fight. In a fit of anger, she just walked out of the house and took the first train out of Kolkata. “I don’t know any other language except Bengali, but I was angry. I did not have any money and did not know where the train was going,” the woman, who also has a seven-year-old daughter, told The Indian Express.
After a three-day journey on the Azad Hind Express, Tuktuki reached Pune. Not knowing what to do, she boarded a local train to Lonavala on April 16 and fell asleep shortly after. When she woke up, she realised that Pokayya was missing.
Tuktuki, who has studied up to Std IX, did not have a contact number where she could have called her relative and she was too scared to contact the police. Her outburst at the station attracted some passers-by who then contacted Ajib Uddin, a Bengali working at a hotel in Lonavala. “I heard her tale and helped her go back to her native village in Kolkata,” recalls Ajib Uddin.
According to Kalpana Khaire, a constable with the railway police (Pune-Lohemarg police station), a passenger found Pokayya sleeping alone at Kamshet. He handed over the child to the police, which contacted the Child Welfare committee who later sent the four-year-old to Shree Vatsa child care centre.
At Shree Vatsa, Pokayya cried for two days asking for his parents, recalls Deepali Kalapure, a social worker.
“We got a translator who told us he was from Tarkeshwar. But there is a similar place at Yerawada in Pune and we searched with police stations here,” says Abhyankar. With no trace of the boy’s parents, the railway police also sent a photograph to the local police stations, but to no avail.
Back in Kolkata, Tuktuki kept calling Ajib Uddin as the Kolkata police told them to return to Pune to file a police complaint. Sapan’s brother Khokan accompanied them to Lonavala where, after making enquiries, they finally met Kalpana Khaire who remembered the case and promptly directed them to Shree Vatsa.
“The parents came to our centre. While we waited for the relevant documents to prove that Pokayya was their son, that unmistakable bond between mother and son was evident as he clung to her while she kept crying,” Abhyankar said. After the court formalities were completed on Wednesday, the child care centre handed back the child to the Das family.
“At least four to five children go missing every month,” Khaire says, adding that very few parents were lucky to get them back.
“If the parents had come after a few months, the child could have been adopted by somebody by then,” Abhyankar says.
“We really are happy to find our son. I will never fight with my wife,” Sapan says, as he gave a tight hug to Pokayya.