Wednesday 17 April 2024

Lost Spring

Lost Spring: Stories of Stolen Childhood

                                           By Anees Jung

Analysis :

·       The chapter ‘Lost Spring’ is written by Anees Jung, a writer, editor and columnist for major newspapers in India and abroad.

·       This chapter is an excerpt from her book titled ‘Lost Spring: Stories of Stolen Childhood’. Here, she analyses the grinding poverty and social stigma and injustice which condemn these children to a life of exploitation.

·       The chapter is divided into two parts which are actually two stories - one is of Saheb and the other is of Mukesh. In these two stories, author discusses how the dreams of few children remain unfulfilled due to poverty and social and political injustice. 

    The chapter explores the themes of migration of poor people for their survival and their economic struggle, family work lineage, and the stark contrast between dreams and reality.

·       It paints a vivid picture of Saheb's and Mukesh’s dreams and, in contrast, realistic struggles to fulfil them.

·       The chapter conveys that this world is divided into two groups - the exploitor and the exploited and the oppressor and the oppressed. Each day poor children dream something and each day they fail to understand the reasons behind the complexities of their life and hurdles in fulfilling their dreams.

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Summary / Synopsis :

Part I : Sometimes I find a Rupee in the garbage

·       This is the story of Saheb who had a dream of scrounging for gold in the garbage dumps of the narrator’s neighbourhood. Saheb doesn’t remember his home in Dhaka, which he left long ago. The storms swept away his fields and home that’s why he and other people left the place, looking for gold in the big city where he now lives.

·       The narrator advises him to go to school, though the advice seemed hollow to her. He agreed to go to school if she started a school in light spirit. After few days he came running asked if her school is ready and she answered, it takes longer to build a school. She felt embarrassed at a promise that was not meant. But such promises are made every day in every corner of his bleak world.

·       His name ‘Saheb-e-Alam’ meaning the ‘lord of the universe’ seems ironical to the author and he would hardly believe if he knew the meaning. Unaware of it, he roams the streets with his friends who appear like the morning birds working in the streets and disappear at noon.

·       When she asked one of them why they didn’t wear chappals, he answered his mother did not give them. Another boy didn’t want to wear chappals and the third one wanted shoes as he could never own them. The author experienced that walking barefoot for these children, in cities or villages is not lack of money but a tradition. They are an army of barefoot boys. Moreover, it's a perpetual state of poverty.

·       The author recalled a story where a man from Udipi in his childhood used to go to school near an old temple and pray for a pair of shoes. After thirty years she visited his town and the temple, where lived the new priest, and a young boy wearing a grey uniform, socks and shoes, arrived. She remembered the prayer of another boy to keep his shoes safe when he had finally got a pair of shoes. Young boys like the son of the priest have shoes but many others like the ragpickers remain shoeless.

·       Many barefoot ragpickers are found in Seemapuri, a place on the periphery of Delhi. They came from Bangladesh in 1971 and Saheb’s family is among them. In Seemapuri, in mud houses with roofs of tin and tarpaulin, devoid of sewage, drainage or running water, live more than 10,000 ragpickers without an identity, without permits but with ration cards that get their names on voters’ lists and enable them to buy grain after all food is more important for survival than an identity. They had to leave their fields that gave no grain.

·       Survival in Seemapuri means ragpicking. Garbage to them is gold. It is their daily bread, a roof over their heads for the parents. But, for children it is even more. If they find a silver coin in a heap of garbage, they can’t stop scrounging, there is hope of finding more, perhaps gold.

·       Saheb told the author that he liked the Tennis and he wanted to play. Sometimes, the gatekeeper of the club allowed him to go inside and play when no one was around. He wore the tennis shoes that didn’t match his clothing and appearance, the shoes were thrown by a rich boy because of a hole in one of them.

·       Saheb got a job at a tea stall for 800 rupees with all his meals. He was carrying a heavy milk canister that belonged to the tea stall owner, earlier he used to a bag which was his own. Saheb was no longer free.

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Part II : I want to drive a car

·       This is the story of Mukesh who wanted to become a motor mechanic. Mukesh had a dream to drive a car, which looked like a mirage to the author. His family lived in Firrozabad and works in a bangle factory. They didn’t know that it is illegal for children like him to work in the glass furnaces with high temperatures, in dingy cells without air and light, where around 20,000 children work and often lose the brightness of their eyes.

·       These bangle makers' families live in homes like hovels with crumbling walls and no windows. Mukesh volunteers to take the author home, which is being rebuilt, and he proudly told that. They walked down stinking lanes choked with garbage and entered a half-built shack. Food was being prepared over firewood stove. The wife of Mukesh’s elder brother, not much older in years was already in charge of three men — her husband, Mukesh and their father who could only teach his sons the art of bangle making as God given lineage can’t be broken even though Mukesh’s grandfather went blind with the dust from polishing the glass of bangles. Grandfather recalled the days of poverty, but now, proud of giving a house to his family.

·       A young girl in pink dress was soldering pieces of glass, without  knowing the sanctity and significance of the bangles and auspiciousness for a married Indian woman, which she also would become one day.

·        Little has changed with time in Firozabad for the poor. Years of mind-numbing toil have killed even their ability to dream. Young men who have fallen into the vicious trap of middlemen can’t get organised into cooperatives, due to the fear of police. They talk endlessly about poverty, apathy, greed and injustice.

·       The author could see two distinct worlds — one of the family, caught in a web of poverty, and the other is a vicious circle of the sahukars, the middlemen, the policemen, the keepers of law, the bureaucrats and the politicians, who all had imposed the baggage on the child who accepted it as naturally as his father had.

·       Mukesh's eyes are full of hope, a hope to do better and something different. But, if doing something different would mean to dare, daring is not part of his growing up. He is content with his dream of driving a car and becoming a motor mechanic, and not flying a plane as he sees many cars on the streets of Firozabad and few planes over the city.

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    The writer wants to highlight the theme of migration of poor people for their survival and portray their economic struggle. She lashes against the inefficient and unconcerned authorities highlighting the stark contrast between dreams and reality of the poor people. 

   Important Question Answers:

   Q1. "Little has moved with time, it seems, in Firozabad." Why does the writer say this?

   Ans. The writer, Anees Jung, tells that the traditional bangle makers in Firozabad are poor, illiterate, and exploited. They cannot fulfil their dreams. They are caught in the web of middlemen and moneylenders who are supported by the authorities. They keep living in filth and squalor for ages. The children help their parents in bangle making and people lose their eye sight due to poor management and conditions. Though such child labour is illegal, it is going on unabated in Firozabad. The author wants to convey that due to irresponsibility of authorities nothing has changed in the city and the poor have been suffering for ages.

   Q2. What does Saheb look for in the garbage dumps? What are the hopes of other 10,000 ragpickers like him?

   Ans. Saheb is a poor ragpicker of Seemapuri. He roams in the streets with his friends and looks for gold and money in the garbage dumps. Sometimes, he also finds a ten rupee note. Other 10,000 ragpickers also dream to find treasure in the garbage like Saheb, especially the children. For grown ups rag picking is a way of survival.

   Q3. What could be the reasons for the migration of people from villages to cities? Why did Saheb's family migrate from Dhaka to Delhi?

   Ans. Every year thousands of people migrate from villages to cities seeking the means of survival. The reasons are countless but the most important reason is basic necessities of life - food, shelter and livelihood. When fields can't provide for the means of survival and employment, poor people are forced to leave their own lands and fields and move to bigger cities for food and work.

    Saheb's is one such family, who left their fields in Dhaka in 1971 and migrated to Seemapuri, Delhi. Cyclonic storms swept away their fields and homes. They were completely ruined. They had no hopes of survival, there. Their fields could not yield crop and they were forced to migrate to India. Life in Seemapuri is a means of survival to Saheb's family but for the ragpicking children like Saheb it is an opportunity and hope to find gold in the garbage and become rich.

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