Lost Spring: Stories of Stolen Childhood is written by famous short-story writer Anees Jung. The following is the summary of an excerpt from her book titled Lost Spring, stories of stolen childhood. Here she concludes the utter poverty and traditions which condemn these children to a life of exploitation. She highlights the utter destitution of ragpickers of Seemapuri, and the bangle makers of Firozabad.
Sometimes I find a rupee in the garbage
The author came across Saheb every morning. She always found him searching for something in a heap of garbage. When he was asked why did he do it, he replied, “I have nothing else to do.” She told him to go to the school but there was no school in his neighbourhood. She told him that she was going to start a school. Saheb was happy. He would go to her school. But she did not intend to start a school.
Saheb’s full name was Saheb-e-Alam. It means the ‘Lord of the Universe’. But the poor boy wandered on roads along with other barefooted poor boys like him. The author talked to other companions of Saheb. One of the barefooted boys said his mother would not bring his chappals down from the shelf. One of them was wearing shoes though they did not match. Another boy who had never had foot wear, wished he had a pair of shoes.
Many children walk barefoot. Some people argue that lack of money is not the reason. It is a tradition to walk barefoot, but the author does not agree with them. She asserts that perpetual state of poverty is the real cause. Some children are lucky. Their prayer to get shoes has been granted. But the ragpickers remain barefoot.
The ragpickers live in Seemapuri. So the author went there. Seemapuri is very close to Delhi but there is a world of difference between the two.
Like all other families of ragpickers, Saheb’s family came from Bangladesh in 1971. They came there because their homes and fields were destroyed by storms. They had nothing to live on.
About 10,000 ragpickers live in Seemapuri. They live in mud structures with roofs made of tin and tarpaulin. They lack all civic amenities like sewage and running water. Living in Seemapuri enables them to cast their votes and food. They move about and pitch their tents wherever they can find food, Ragpicking is their sole means of earning a livelihood.
One winter morning the author finds Saheb standing by the fenced gate of a neighbourhood club. He is watching two youngmen playing tennis. They are dressed in white. Saheb likes the game but he is content to watch it standing behind the fence. Saheb is wearing discarded tennis shoes that look strange over his discoloured shirt and shorts. For one who has walked barefoot, even shoes with a hole is a dream come true. But tennis is out of his reach.
This morning Saheb is on his way to the milk booth. In his hand is a steel canister. He works in a tea-stall. He is paid 800 rupees and all his meals. Saheb is no longer his master. His face has lost the carefree look. He doesn’t seem happy working at the tea-stall.
I want to drive a car
The author comes across Mukesh in Firozabad. His family is engaged in bangle making, but Mukesh insists on being his own master. “I will be a motor mechanic,” he announces. “I will learn to drive a car,” he says.
Firozabad is famous for its bangles. Every other family in Firozabad is engaged in making bangles. Families have spent generations working around furnaces, welding glass, making bangles for women. None of them know that it is illegal for children like Mukesh to work in the glass furnaces with high. temperatures, in dingy cells without air and light. They slog their daylight hours, often losing the brightness of their eyes. If the law is enforced, it could get Mukesh and 20,000 children out of the hot furnaces.
Mukesh took her to his house. They went through stinking lanes choked with garbage. Families of bangle- makers lived there. Their houses had crumbling walls and wobbly doors.
They entered Mukesh’s house which was like any other house in the lane. A frail young woman was cooking meals on a firewood stove. Her eyes were filled with smoke. She greeted the author with a smile. She was the wife of Mukesh’s elder brother. She was respected as the daughter-in-law of the family. Mukesh’s father also came in. The daughter-in-law covered her face with her veil as the custom demanded.
Mukesh’s father was old and weak. He had lost his eyes working on furnaces and polishing bangles. He had worked hard all his life. But he could not afford to send his two sons to school. He could only teach them the art of making bangles. He had built the house but could not repair it. Mukesh’s grandmother expressed her belief in destiny. She said that on account of their karam (deeds) they were born in the bangle-makers’ caste. It was their destiny to suffer. But no man could change what was ordained by fate. In fact, her belief was shared by all.
Savita, a young girl in a drab pink dress, sits along side an elderly woman. She is soldering pieces of glass. Her hands move mechanically like the tongs of a machine. Perhaps she does not know the sanctity of the bangles that she helps make. The old woman beside her has not enjoyed even one full meal in her entire life time. Her husband is an old man with flowing beard. He knows nothing except bangles. He has made a house for the family to live in. He has a roof over his head.
The author could see bangles everywhere. She saw boys and girls sitting with then parents before flickering oil lamps. They welded pieces of coloured glass she learnt. Their eyes got used to dark and they lost eyesight before they were adults. At home, families worked hard all day before furnaces with high temperature. All the operations of bangle making cause blindness.
Generation after generation families of bangle-makers have been engaged in making o bangles. They live in poverty, they work hard, and die in poverty. Nothing has changed with the passage of time. They find themselves in the clutches of middlemen and money lenders. The police and the administration does not help them. If they try to pull out of the vicious circle they are in trouble. The police beat them and put them in jail.