Thursday 28 August 2008

Children and Conversations...

Conversations… I had these snippets of conversations with children at different points of time...just wanted to put them down.

Place: My office
Time: Around lunchtime.
Background: Suddenly a little fireball of a boy come and leans against my desk in office. I look up startled.
Me: Aarey kya huya? [What happened?]
…: Thak gaya. [Got tired]
Me: Nam kya hain tumhara? [What is your name?]
…: Guru, kitna bar to bola tumko. [My name is Guru, I have told you so many times]
Me: Sorry Guru, main na bhool jaati hoon. [Sorry Guru I keep forgetting]
This conversation was happening between me and a ten/eleven year old boy, who comes to my office to deliver food from a local dhaba.
I look in my drawer; there is nothing in food group to offer Guru sadly. For a brief second I contemplate giving him a pencil, but didn’t think it would go down well with him.
Me (after a pause, while I was searching): Guru tum kaha se ho? [Guru where are you from?]
Guru: Darbhanga [One of the poor districts of Bihar]
Me: Kiske saath yeha pain rahete ho? [With whom do you stay here?]
Guru: Mamaji. [Uncle, mother’s brother]. Achaa main chalta hoon, der ho raha hain. [Ok, I am going, it is going late].
Abruptly he turns around and vanishes.

Another conversation…
Place: My cousin brother’s house
Time: Freaking 6 a.m.
Background: My sister-in-law goes to teach school at 6 a.m., so a small girl about 12/13 years comes to play with her son/ my nephew till she is back. Since the girl’s parents go off to work around 5.30 a.m. in the morning, they drop her that early.
I felt someone come and sit near my head on the bed. I open one eye and see a freshly bathed little girl, looking prim and proper with bindi and lipstick, smiling broadly at me. My sis-in-law says a cheery bye [another morning person] and disappears. Since it seemed rude to go back to sleep, I mutter some incoherent words. That was all the encouragement she needed.
…: My name is Deepa.
Me: Hmmm.
Deepa: I know you.
Me (a little interested): You do? How?
Deepa: Boudi (my sis-in-law) told me about you.
Me (with a little less interest): Oh ok. So where are you from?
This set her off for the next half an hour. She is from Kakdeep area which is in South 24 Parganas, fringing on the Sunderbans. First her dad came to Delhi, then her mom and now both she and her brother are here too. Her younger brother goes to school, while she works because her parents are poor and need all the money they can earn in order to retrieve the land, which had to be pawned to the moneylender when floods hit the plains. 24 Parganas is situated in the lower plains, at Hoogly’s (Ganga’s name in West Bengal) mouth and treacherously prone to floods.
Me: So when your parents get their land back, will you go back to school?
Deepa (a little wistfully): Don’t know.
(Then she perks up) But I study in the evenings with my brother.
Me: Do you miss home?
Casually asked but she launched into a missive on missing home. This naturally got me interested, if I was completed my Ph.D. my thesis would have been on diaspora, home away from home and all these vague concepts. Yes according to Deepa she does miss home. I point out to her the glitters of Delhi, no she was firm, and home will always be home. She rather be in her village with her grandparents and cousins. Don’t know whether these were Deepa’s very words or she was copying what her parents say. Talking to her was similar to reading one of the writers in exile. Whatever the background, the experience of displacement, the feeling of not belonging are almost the same, stress on the word 'almost'.

Another conversation
Location: Children’s Home, New Delhi
Time: A few days back
Background: This minor girl of twelve/thirteen years has already gone through a lot more hell than most of us go through in our entire lives. She is away from her home and family, forgotten her mother tongue, speaks in a mixed language (bits of her mother tongue and Hindi) and is highly traumatized.
I had this conversation after I had finished formally translating for her.
Girl: Didi (elder sister) when can I go home?
Me: Soon. See once the legal proceedings start it takes sometime. You have to be patient.
Girl: Didi I miss my home and my family so much I cannot tell you.
Me: You will go back home soon, don’t worry. You have to be patient and brave.
Girl starts crying. So in order to lighten her mood I ask her: You have already forgotten your language, so how will you speak in home?
Girl: I will relearn once I am back.
Me: Wont you miss Delhi? Your friends in this place?
Girl: No didi I just want to go back home.
The poor girl is still stuck in the children's home, and there is little one can do to hurry up court procedings. In fact children's homes are like a can of worms-- each case turns out to be more horrifying that others. Anyways that is going off to another line...

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