By Savitri Narayanan
Karan sat under the tree with his spade waiting for the site supervisor to come and allot the daily work. The other labourers were also waiting, chatting with each other.
A Class XII student, Karan had started working at the construction site a month ago. After dinner he was practicing his Maths sums when he overheard the conversation from the kitchen.
“Madam’s daughter came this morning,” Maji was telling, “They are planning to lock up the bungalow and take Madam to Mumbai. ‘Come with us, mummy, enjoy Mumbai life now; why are you staying here all alone? And if something happens, who’s here to help you?’ she was saying.”
“And what did Madamji say? Did she agree to go?” asked Pitaji. Usually, the elderly who went with their children returned soon as they didn’t enjoy living in small flats in the cities.
“I think she will go this time because her grandchildren also will be there; it’s their school vacation, it seems,” said Maji, “God knows how to find a new place to work now….”
The cling-clang of the utensils and the gushing of running tap water stopped as Pitaji spoke, “Don’t worry; I still have my job. This project will go on at least till December; then they will have another project! We’ll have enough to feed our children.”
Pitaji had been working with the same builders for many years. They built shopping malls and housing complexes in different locations. At times Pitaji was away for weeks and months working at sites as far as Mussoorie and Haldwani. There was a steady income and that’s how Karan and his two brothers grew up. Maji was a helper in the bungalow where they stayed in the servant’s quarters. Only madamji lived in the bungalow.
“Children are growing up; expenses are increasing,” Maji said, “Karan was talking about some coaching class to become an engineer; and madamji had promised to pay the fees,” said Maji, “But if she goes to Mumbai….”
“Don’t think too much; God keeps an eye on all of us,” said Pitaji, “I was only 16 when I started working at construction sites; those who put in honest work will never go hungry!”
Sleep evaded Karan even as Ajay and Sudeep were fast asleep next to him. How hard Pitaji must have worked all these years! And even now Pitaji and Maji left for work early and returned late. Even at home they were always doing some task or the other except when they watched TV in the evenings. ‘And here I am wasting my time, playing and watching TV with friends! How irresponsible!’
Karan drifted off to sleep but woke up pretty early, determined to find a way to help his parents.
“New project has come, work starts on Monday,” said the man in the torn blue shirt, “Saabji is looking for labourers, bring along Sitaram and Babulal also”.
“Where’s the site?” asked the other man chewing betel leaves.
“Near the Primary school, beside Manohar’s shop,” he said, “They are building a housing complex with many buildings and a swimming pool, too! Lots of work, at least for a year there’ll be food on the table!”
The virus had affected everyone’s life in the village. Many had returned home as they lost their jobs.
‘So the buildings coming up is surely good news,’ thought Karan who overheard the conversation.
Being a Saturday there were no online classes so he was hanging around near the bus stop. This conversation was interesting.
“Uncle, can I also come to work?” asked Karan.
“It’s your wish, beta but ask your parents first,” he said, “There are four or five students who work there; no online class, it’s a government school!”
That was how Karan became a construction labourer a month ago. Suddenly, life had become busy. Soon after breakfast he packed his lunch and left home. “It is better to study with friends,” he said, “We can discuss and clarify our doubts.” He planned to give them a surprise when there was enough money.
On the way back home, Karan hid his spade in the bushes from where he picked it up the next morning. “Lots to catch up on my studies,” he mused, The teachers would surely be upset if his marks went low. “You can come in the merit list,” they often said, “If only you focus!”
As he was lost in thoughts, the site-supervisor’s car pulled in and the labourers lined up for their assignments.
It was the lunch break. Karan finished eating and sat staring at the sky. Another month, summer vacations would be over. Either he’ll go to school or attend online classes. Or he could do self-study from the course books and pass the exam but without high marks in Class XII the doors to higher studies and career would be closed. But how to study when Maji was out of her job!
Just as Karan was deliberating, the siren sounded to get back to work. As he walked along the boundary wall, Karan was surprised to find a cellphone lying on the road. It was a quality model, must have cost a lot. Whoever lost it must be searching for it, how to find the owner?
Karan put it in his pocket and walked back to the site.
‘Could it be one of these?’ he wondered as he glanced at the others who worked beside him. At the end of the day’s work when he reached for the phone it won’t be there in his pocket. How could he afford to buy a new one? He could hand it over to the supervisor but how would he find the owner! The workers were not allowed to use the cellphone at work so whose could it be? Would the supervisor take the trouble to trace the owner?
‘This could be so good for the online classes,’ the thought crossed his mind’. The speed would be good and he could be faster with all his work. ‘But it was not right’ he quickly negated his thought, ‘find the owner I will.’
On his way back home he took a detour to that bungalow. The gate was closed but he noticed a couple of gentlemen near the boundary wall chatting with each other. Could it be their phone?
“Excuse me Sir,” he called out over the gate to catch their attention. At their signal, he opened the gate and walked to them.
“By any chance have you lost a cellphone,” Karan came to the point. The gentleman looked surprised and they exchanged a glance.
“I found this in that construction site, could it be yours?” asked Karan pointing in the direction where they stood chatting a while ago. Saying so he pulled the phone out of his pocket.
“Yes, it is mine!” the gentleman said gleefully, “It slipped out of my hand into that construction site; my servant went down searching but couldn’t find it. I had given it up as lost – what a pleasure to get it back!” He smiled from ear to ear, his eyes glowing with pleasure.
Karan’s joy knew no bounds. “Thank you Sir, so glad it’s yours!”
“But why were you there? Don’t you have online classes?”
When Karan narrated his situation, the gentleman was thoughtful for a while.
“Let’s have a deal,” he said, “I am a retired school teacher. I feel delighted to see students like you with the right value system in place. You stop working and focus on your studies. I’ll stand by you, could even help with your Maths and English. Ask your parents to meet me, we need lots of help around.”
Thanking him Karan stepped back, closed the gate and ran home to share the good news with his parents.