‘I don’t want’, screamed Saahil and ran off from the room. Karuna was exasperated. Day by day her 10 year old was becoming difficult to handle. ‘He knows he can emotionally blackmail us, she thought, but how to control him. I can’t let him stay hungry, he knows that. Invariably I will give him some money and he will eat some junk during his school interval. Just then her maid Sumitrabai arrived. ‘Sumitra you know I get late if you come in late.’ ‘I know Bibiji’. She replied but Ganu dropped food on his school uniform.’ ‘So?’ asked Karuna. “he only has one pair Bibiji and his teacher scolds if his uniform is soiled, so I brought him along.’ And out peeped Ganu from his mother’s back. His cheeks were wet with tears. Obviously his mother had scolded him.
Karuna felt sorry. “Ganu have some French toast”, she offered. He took it greedily and ate with such a relish that tears sprang to her eyes. If only once my Saahil ate like that I would consider myself fortunate, she thought.

That night Karuna and Sekhar brainstormed how to reform their son, who apart from being headstrong and manipulative was also very demanding. They wanted to straighten him up before it was too late. Karuna had a brainwave. “Sekhar what are you doing this Saturday?” ‘Boss has asked me to come to work’

‘Oh, in that case I will take Saahil to Sumitrabai’s basti and there he will have a lesson of his life’, thought Karuna enigmatically. Saahil could wrap his father around his little finger and Sekhar too could not see his son in any kind of inconvenience. And the plan she had in mind required a tough heart.

Saturday bloomed and she got ready, Saahil got up at 9am to see his mother all ready and packing a bag. ‘Mom where are you going.’ ‘Good morning Saahil, I am going to Sumitrabai’s basti. Had lot of old clothes, some new ones too which you refused to wear. Then some food items, medicines etc’. But you always give it to Bai and she distributes’, said Saahil. ‘Yes but I am not sure she does it properly, so this time I will do it myself. By the way can you manage by yourself?’ ‘Huh meaning?’ he asked. ‘Meaning that your father has gone to work, so you have to manage on your own’. ‘Huh, no I will come with you’, he answered and ran to get ready. Karuna gave a sly smile. If she had asked him to get ready he would have thrown a tantrum, she knew he hated to be alone.

‘Mama why do we have to go by this bus and not by taxi’, Saahil complained when for the umpteenth time the bus heaved and a fisherwoman bumped against him. ‘Because I spent Rs 2500 for your PC games this month and I just can’t afford a taxi’, replied Karuna. And after sometime he asked ’Does Bai travel every day like this.’ ‘Yes for the past 5 years and don’t know for how many more.’ Replied she and thought ‘good he is trying to understand’.

Sumitra was waiting for them at the bus stop. She was overjoyed that her Bibiji had come to visit her basti. She took them home and gave them tea to drink along with some biscuits. Initially Saahil crinkled his nose but then he raised his head and saw the look of adulation on her face and he quietly took the tumbler of tea. Ganu was quietly hovering as usual behind his mother. Karuna called him and said ‘Here Ganu take this uniform, you will never have to miss school anymore.’ He came running to take it and hugged the uniform and bowed his head before her feet. Saahil was astonished. Karuna explained that a pair of uniform cost around Rs 200 a luxury for them, as Sumitra had a family of 8 to support.

Saahil looked around. It was a mud house but kept very neat. He compared his own room. It was bigger than the entire house. And it housed every conceivable thing that he wanted, PC, music system, books, games. And here ………….

After Tea Sumitra took them around the basti and Karuna distributed the paraphernalia. Everywhere he saw the joyous look on people’s faces. Could people be so happy in receiving old clothes, food, books? And then finally they went to the health centre. And gave medicines to the Doctor there. ‘Thanks Mrs. Awasthi, though we get allocated medicines, its never enough,’ said the Doctor. ‘Are you the duty Doctor’, asked Karuna. ‘No I am a volunteer, I come here each Weekend’, he smiled and returned to his work. Saahil was again astonished. A Doctor volunteering for serving poor people was a bit difficult to understand.

On the way back home Karuna gave a sideways glance to Saahil who was deep in thought. They had had food in a roadside dhaaba and for the first time he had not fussed and complained.

‘I hope he remembers this lesson throughout his life,’ she thought. She too had an insight into an other life. She was tired and hoped that Shekhar would have reached home by then and would make her some tea. After all, she too was not used to rickety bus travels and witnessing poverty.

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