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While washing a Car

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By Savitri Narayanan

The morning was busy, as usual it was getting late.

“Hurry up, Nitin! You’ll miss the school bus!” Mummy called out as she cleared the breakfast table.

“And then I’ll have to drop you to school,” added Papa from the bedroom, “That’ll make me late for work!”

Nitin put on his white socks, picked up his school bag and moved to the front door. He put down the bag on the parapet and put on the shoes. As he tied the shoe-lace they could hear the school bus horn at the main gate. “Run beta, run,” in a rush Mummy came to the front door. “You might still catch it; the driver will surely wait, if only he sees you running!”

“How can he run all the way to the main gate with such a heavy bag?” Papa came out with his brief case and a pair of socks in his hand. “I’ll drop you on the way!”

Skylark was a large housing colony with hundreds of residents. In the mornings the main gate was a busy spot as several school buses and office vehicles paused there to pick up the residents. Nitin often missed the school bus which was no big issue as Papa gave him a lift. His school was off the road to Papa’s office. Secretly, Nitin enjoyed this drive with Papa too.

“Papa, look at that boy, washing a car! Why isn’t he going to school?” wondered Nitin as they walked to the main gate.

Mr Mishra followed Nitin’s glance and walked on.

Young boys washing the residents’ cars was a common sight in the upmarket housing colony. Daily at sunrise they arrived in their shabby clothes. Equipped with a bucket, mug and mop, they cleaned car after car.

“He must be going to school,” said Mr Mishra. “In our country, education is free and compulsory for all the children!”

“He could come to our school,” said Nitin thoughtfully as he fastened the seat-belt. “You could pay his fees too if he’s poor!”

“I’m pleased at your thinking, my dear,” said Mr Mishra, a softness in his voice. “Let’s find out the details, will find a way.”

In the evening, as usual, Nitin reached the playground with his football. The boy was in the lawn across. He collected the dry leaves which he put into a large plastic bag. There was a worker, too, there, trimming the branches.

“Is he your father?” asked Nitin.

“Yes!”

“Why don’t you go to school?”

“I used to when we lived in Bihar!” said the boy. “I had passed to Class VIII; when the school reopened after the summer vacation, I had got a new set of books too…”

“Then?”

“Wild pigs spoilt our farmland, there was nothing to eat so we boarded the train and came here looking for work…”

“Here too you can go to school; Papa says education is free and compulsory in our country!”

“I need my TC to get admission here, I don’t have one!”

“What’s a TC?”

“It’s a certificate,” Saurabh who was overhearing, joined the conversation. “I too got mine from the Mumbai school when we shifted here.”

Nitin turned to the boy’s father, “Why don’t you go to Bihar and get the TC from the school?”

“Wish it was that easy,” laughed the man as he continued to trim the hedges. “I have to take leave, book a ticket, travel up and down by train to Bihar for that paper; you children won’t understand.”

Over the following days Nitin chatted often with that boy.

“Maths was my favourite subject, I always topped the class.” There were tears in Mayur’s voice.

“My Maths teacher used to say, ‘you’ve a bright future, boy; I’ll support you with your higher education; as much as you wish to study’ but here I’m washing the cars and weeding the lawn.”

At dinner time Nitin recounted the boy’s plight. “Life is not fair to him, poor Mayur!”

“No worries, son, we’ll find a way to make sure this boy will be in school next week,” said his father, touched by his son’s concern. “Times have changed; in this digital era one can do many things from home! Ask them to meet me tomorrow evening with whatever documents they’ve brought along from Bihar!”

True to his word, Nitin’s father managed the paperwork in a couple of days.

“Tell your friend, he’ll have to learn a new language, ‘Kannada’,” said his father.

“I can already speak some by listening to other workers and my neighbours,” said Mayur.

“I’ll help you with reading and writing,” said Nitin.

“My mother said she’ll be happy to help,” said Saurabh. “When you’re back from school come home; she’ll help with your homework too!”

Saurabh’s mother was a retired teacher who helped any child in need.

One afternoon the postman delivered the TC which had come by registered post. Next morning Nitin’s father went along to the nearby government school with Mayur and his parents to complete the admission formalities. He also bought a new schoolbag along with the coursebooks for Mayur.

Next evening, clad in the new school uniform, with the school bag over his back, a beaming Mayur came home. He touched Nitin’s father’s feet and said, ‘Tumba dhanyavadagalu’.

“You’re God for us!” said Mayur’s father, “Can’t thank you enough for this timely help.”

Nitin’s father waved off the compliment gently and turned to Mayur, “Be a good student, focus on your studies – that’s the best way to thank me!” He continued with a smile, “Children like you, Nitin, Saurabh and others are the future leaders of our nation!”

(Savitri Narayanan is a retired educationist at present in Bangaluru. A mother and grandmother, loves readig, writing and
travelling.)