Once upon a time, at one of Mumbai’s many railway stations, I was waiting to board a late train to Ahmedabad. My parents and my sister were with me. We were heading back to our hometown of Rajkot, via Ahmedabad, after a trip to Mumbai to meet a few relatives.
Our train was scheduled at 10:30 pm. And it was around 10:15 pm at the time. As usual, we were seated on the few benches there and I was looking around the platform.
I noticed a little boy, surely not older than five or six, a little farther away. Clad in a torn black t-shirt and brown shorts, the little kid was moving about barefooted, had a plastic bag in one hand and the fingers of his other hand seemed closed around something he was clutching to while requesting others on the station to take up his service of shoe polishing.
Unfortunately, nobody obliged. Slowly, he came over to where my father and I were seated. My mother and my sister had apparently gone for a walk around the station and were not present then.
As he approached us, I noticed that he was holding his earnings from a hard day’s job in the clenched fist. It didn’t seem to be much, as a little kid’s hands can hardly hold too many coins, forget clutching to them.
He was silent. After having been asked to move ahead rather rudely by many of the people he came across, I sensed a natural dejection in him to convince my father and me.
He lightly waved the bag. My father asked him “Kitne me karoge?“
Sensing a potential customer, the little kid’s eyes gleamed and he raised two fingers of the hand with which he held the plastic bag and said “Do rupey, saab.“, the other hand as tightly bound as ever.
My father removed his chappals.
The kid then sat down, undoubtedly spurred on by landing a customer, and finally loosened the fist of his other hand. Some coins emerged. He sat down, placed the coins carefully beside him, and proceeded with the job on hand.
The dedication with which he took up the task was a treat to the eyes. Like a thorough professional, he opened his carry bag and out came a shoe polish and a brush. Very delicately, he opened the polish, dipped his brush into it and polished my father’s chappals. What was more wonderful was that he gave it all his time, like a perfectionist, making sure that not a speck of dust remained.
He was soon done. The chappals were as good as new.
My father took out a ten-rupee note to pay the child, who had by now put the polish and the brush into his bag and gathered his previous earnings.
The child observed the ten-rupee note, and looked at his earnings. I could see that the coins were few and he began counting them. It was a small collection of one-rupee and 50-paise coins. One by one he counted the coins and I counted along.
The coins summed up to seven-and-a-half rupees.
The child, with an anxious look on his face and an innocent nod, looked up towards us and said “Saab, chhutte nahi hain.“.
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