Thursday, November 29, 2007

Growing Early Or Lost Innocence?

A cousin of mine was shocked when her elder daughter (studying in eight class) came to her and asked, “Mom, is it important to have a boyfriend, does that make one look more cool and wanted?” She was dumb and even after reflecting a lot on what kind of an answer this question should have, she preferred to remain silent. Not that she could not have made her daughter understand (maybe she even did later on) but what bothered her was how life has changed and how kids are no longer kids.

Kids are no more kids. Ludos and dolls have been replaced with online games, gizmos and iPods. They are brand-conscious, aware of the latest trends, concerned about their looks and even love to party, and the lot is of an average age below 15. We may be bragging about the developments of our country, the latest technical innovations but somewhere aren’t we all guilty of taking childhood away from those grown up children? Where a few parents blame themselves, some put it on the age and fast life. Today Barbies have replaced dolls and why have they become a favorite among children? One of my friends studying psychology reasons, “Because children imbibe everything from their surroundings and they know that to have a figure like 'her' is something big. They love 'her' not as a doll anymore but for that star status, for them that ‘Barbie’ is what Angelina Jolie, Madhuri Dixit or Aishwarya Rai is to us.” Same case applies to having a fair complexion; there are a few girlie’s (like most of them in their teens or later years) who will like when even when they are complimented about their not so fair color. If you ask me, where that comes from; just browse the TV channels for a few minutes and you will see loads of fair girls advertising fairness creams.

Their expenses are rising not only in education but even as far as their personal lives are concerned. What was the forte of teen age has become the play of kids, they have girlfriends and boyfriends at the age of 12 and you can even find them shopping at Archie’s on Valentine’s Day. For once you may think that this is an exaggerated take but look around and I am sure you’ll find examples. Laptops are no more a desire of a college going student but even the one who is just appearing for class tenth boards. No wonders, that can be something good but then facts like cyber porn seeps in. Where a few children don’t even get to have three meals a day, others boast about their richness and gizmos. Recently a group of three children (one aged 8, the two other aged 9 years) have been accused of raping an 11-year old girl with whom they were playing. This incident shook the community of Acworth, a small Georgian town but is it really the fault of those kids? Incest is nothing new and even entering the Indian households, it may go unreported but not unnoticed. A lot of questions cloud the mind but the answers are few!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Rolled Down

She startled me . I dropped my Mocha. That was the last thing I needed after a long day.
I was furious and did not want to spare a single rupee for a smelly street urchin who had ruined my perfect coffee .
She wasn't among the ones who give up easily. She persisted. I screamed at her . The loudest I ever had.
I sat back in my car . Rolled up the window . She spat on the window.

She had second thoughts about ruining a perfect Sunday and spending a day in a remote village teaching kids.
Sure she had always wanted to do this . She found about ASHA a month ago.
Now there she was . A hot day . She wished for rain , so that they would cancel the whole thing.
But she knew it wouldn't.

I had detailed and washed my car just the other day . I was furious.

They were all of the 20 kids. Some of them bored .Some of them eager . Some of them just glad that they didn't have to work that day.
She was struggling to think of a Hindi word for 'addition' .And then
one of the kids asked her (in Hindi) ... Does everyone in your house love you?
No one had asked her that before. It was always a given .She realized though, that she couldn't ignore it like she would ignore a rhetoric . She replied yes and asked the kid , "Aur Tumhe?"
"Haan agar Ghar hota to jaroor pyar karte , didi" .

I rolled down the window . She spat on me.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Cost Of Happiness

May 2005, Scene - College Atrium near the Utilities Shop. Me and a group of friends killing time like you always do in colleges.

What were we doing? Nothing specific, just chatting and sipping cola (or was it a juice?), in that usual hustle and bustle of college I happened to notice a small young girl of maybe 5-6 years of age covered in a bedsheet, perhaps one of the numerous children of the construction workers working at our college, scavenging the garbage bin of the Utilities shop for some eatable.

Suddenly she was warded off rudely by the shopkeeper, terrified, she ran away. Ideally I wouldn't have bothered to do anything about it, it was all so normal to see, this happens everywhere. But that day I moved, I could sense that the child wished to have something nice to eat, my friends stopped and stared at me because I left the conversation in the middle. I went to the shop bought 4 rupees worth of eclairs, and ran after that child. The girl had reached the water cooler and was quenching her thirst, seeing me run towards her she stopped drinking and was about to run. Perhaps she thought that like the shopkeeper I was going to scold her for drinking water in the Academic Block, I asked her to stop and opened my hands to reveal the Eclairs. She was reluctant to take them, but I persuaded her to take them all. In return to this favor I got a big smile from her, and then she ran away. It made me feel good from within and the happy feeling lingered on for sometime. It all costed me just four rupees to make her smile and feel happy.

Perhaps that is all happiness costs us - the desire to do something, not with pity but, with care.

When was the last time you felt happy doing something?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dancers In The Dark

I gazed silently at those nimble pair of legs which moved in haste. A few steps forward, then a quick flip. A moment later, bending on the gravelly surface and writhing back and forth through a hoopla, without so much as to touch it. Pushing it aside the next moment, sprinting forward and taking a gravity defying somersault again. A young girl of the same age, fidgeted nearby, playing a small dhol tied to her neck and singing to the tunes of popular bollywood numbers. Another kid belonging to the same clan looked on, waiting for his turn next. I felt as if every single act of theirs, was smeared in a monotonous semblance. But then, it was their conditioning which blurred such an axiomatic display to a large extent. Helplessly I watched, however trying not to, at times. A sight as such made me dwell earnestly on the cruelties meted out to such pitiable young souls, clinging to a parallel world soaked in abject poverty and hopelessness.

It was a difficult sight to construe. Disturbing. Deplorable. In the subcontinent, this is considered quite a 'normal' occurrence to all and sundry. A performance as such by those hapless youngsters, most of them below five, held the multitude in awe. Heartless souls around had completely obscured themselves from this impregnable truth with such repose as it pushed me towards the brink of stark disappointment. My quaint thoughts jittered on the rickety borders of hesitation but I looked on, shamelessly. Something changed inside me at that very instant. What I saw, nudged my soul and struck a deep chord inside me. I glanced around making a frantic search for their parents. But none were in sight. Those kids were all alone. On their own. None to hold their hand and guide them the along the right path. None to care. None to shower love. These little angels had nowhere to go. They knew not what stuff dreams were conjured of and savoring them unlike kids of similar age who were fortunate enough. They knew not what it meant to go to school, to learn, to play with toys and develop into educated beings. Made to gyrate to vicious rhythms of impoverishment along a tumultuous path of despair and desolation. They were born humans but now, with each passing day, they were being stripped of this so called 'gift'. Let loose in a cruel world, devoid of love, guidance and protection, showered so lavishly on other children of their age. Let loose to align themselves on their own and make sense out of the chaos and the bedlam prevalent in our cruel society. Such an age to eke out a living, for their family, for themselves? A family strung together by nothing but hopelessness and despair? The truth held me in a trance. It was weird. Every second, I tried to make more sense out of it. I faltered many a time. But I tried.

The crowd was growing impatient with each passing second. I knew why. The more they looked at the proceedings, the more they reveled in a mellowed act of derision. But to me such a mockery, rather being directed towards those poor souls, seemed more to be directed towards the system. The system which has sprouted such a sordid state of affairs for the little ones. A system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Whatever happened to those much touted welfare programmes for the needy, those so called 'honest' efforts to educate the poor children and tall claims to restructure their lives? Mere words scribbled in government files left to rot in dusty shelves? Hollow promises made by the inept bureaucracy? How true. Humanity, chucked into oblivion, lost forever...never to be found.

A soft tug at my hands, made me break away from the trance. Her fatigued eyes, amidst her soiled face and disheveled hair, yearned to say something. But all she could do was unfold her palm and implore for money. The next instant, as soon as I had handed her a five rupee note, she flitted to the person next to me only to be dissed aside. I turned around to see the other kids penetrating the crowd and approaching people for money. Some chipped in a few pennies, some stoically ignored their innocent overture.

But soon, time ran out. I saw the light flash green ahead. People around made a dash forward, in a state of tizzy as they have always been accustomed to, amidst horns blaring and vehicular pandemonium. Those three fragile minutes seemed like eternity. But something stayed with me. That silent impeccable look in the girl's eyes which silhouetted her dreary fragmented existence. A pinch of hope in a cauldron of overflowing despair that made her endure her pains and trudge ahead in life. In that fleeting instance, I realized I needed to break the mould and do something for such poor children. A honest attempt to alleviate their misery and try to make them realize that even they are entitled to what we 'humans' take for granted day in and day out. Penning my thoughts here is a minuscule step taken to highlight such an overlooked scenario dominating all around us. God might smile at such a novel endeavor, supposedly. But I, for one, care less about what He thinks. A mission lies ahead of me. Fulfilling a drive to bring a smile on the faces of these children. After all, it's my pursuit to restore that bit of happiness in their lives, in all the ways I possibly can.

Come little one, come along

To the land where you belong

Fear not, smile my friend

With us, you shall blend

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I am Smriti

I am Smriti, remembrance, that’s what my name means, and that how I live these days, in the past. I came to Bangalore a few days back, I never wanted to leave my village, I loved our battered but cosy home, the generous mango tree in our backyard, the winding road that led to the village pond, the village school were Neeru (Neeraj my lil’ brother) and I used to study…

When Ma* told me we were going to the city, I refused straightaway, Neeru also started crying, Ma said we didn’t have money and Hari kaka* had found a job for Baba in the city. I broke my gullock* and gave Ma the money I had saved for lac bangles and a pair of dolls I wanted to buy during the Shivratri Mela*. (Ohh! How colorful and lively the mela used to be? ) Ma hugged me lovingly and explained to me that the money wouldn’t even be enough for the train tickets. Neeru and I got excited at the mention of trains, we had never been on one before. We used to wake up to the whistle of the passenger train that passed in the distance early morning, sometimes running out of the house across the lush fields to watch it. It looked so small just like a toy; we used to wonder how it carried people inside it.

But shortly we were inside a real train ourselves, it looked so big from close, no wonder it could carry hundreds of people. We fought all through the way for window seats, we had to change two trains, but that was nothing, I was so excited, the constant hustle-bustle of the stations reminded me of the Mela. Finally we arrived in Bangalore, it has been three days since I had a bath, normally Ma would’ve pestered me to have a bath, but this was no normal day, its not everyday you come to a city like Bangalore.

Hari Kaka’s house was near the building he used to work in, in fact the whole setllement had come up because of the construction work going on in the area, Baba was also going to work in one of these buildings. The first workers called their kith and kin from villages afar, who in turn called theirs and so on, the vicious circle continued and the settlement teemed with migrant workers.

Neeru and I took to exploring the area nearby, each day we used to make a new discovery; we found a few kittens hiding under a basket one day, a new playmate in our neighbors’ daughter, an old vacant house which we made our frequent haunt…But otherwise I used to miss the village, the trees, the fields, the peace, Bangalore was too bare somehow, too noisy. Soon life settled into a rut, even when Baba was earning more than what he used to in the village, we were scraping through with difficulty, Bangalore was much costlier than our village.

Neeru and I hadn’t been enrolled in the school yet, one day workers from the nearby NGO came to talk to my parents, they had seen Neeru and me roaming quite a few times and inquired about us. The NGO ran a hostel for girls, they wanted my parents to send me there, I would be well taken care of there, they told my parents and even be enrolled in a school. Ma didn’t want to send me, but Baba convinced her, she would have a better life there he said.

So off I was sent to a new destination again and here I had no Ma, no Baba, no Neeru, I was on my own. There were some fifteen more girls in the hostel; some child laborers rescued by the NGO, some girls who had resorted to begging, some orphans and some girls like me, from a very poor family. I wished Neeru was a girl too, he could also have come here and stayed in the hostel, the hostel was nice, two aunties stayed with us all the time, one was our cook and the other our teacher.

Every morning we got up early and had a quick bath, and then we played for sometime before having breakfast. Once in a week we had sweets in breakfast, I wished I could share them with Neeru he loved sweets. We then did lessons, we had missed the admission dates for school, and so we would be enrolled next year, this year we would be taught in the hostel itself. I remember doing lessons with Neeru after school; we used to have so much fun, Neeru used to eat up so many alphabets while reciting them. If I scolded him, he used to say, “Didi* I ate up ‘e’ for egg, I made a big omelette wit it, it was yummy.” And we used to burst out laughing it was our private joke.

After having a short nap in the afternoon we used to play in the evening, hide and seek, races, river and mountains, home home. I had lost my favorite doll when I came to the hostel, I had cried a lot but didn’t get it back, I now played with Kusum didi’s doll, Kusum didi loved me a lot, she loved all the other kids, she sometimes even used to recite stories to us in the night.

One-day some Aunties from the NGO in Bangalore came to visit our hostel; I was so excited to see them they would know how my parents and Neeru were, I might even be able to talk to them. I showed Aunty the tattooed number (Hari Kaka’s cell number) on my hand, she dialled the number and suddenly the distance didn’t matter, I was talking to Baba, he said he would come to take me home for Diwali and I was so happy. Ma had gone for buying vegetables and Neeru had ran to call her, when they came back Neeru snatched the phone from Baba, he had so many things to tell me, the new friends he had made, the new games he had learnt, his new discoveries. Finally Ma had to force the phone out of his hand, she was crying, as was I, she asked me to be a good girl, take good care of myself and study well so that I could live a good life when I grew up.

In the night I thought what a good life was? I don’t know what Ma meant when she said she wants me to have a good life. But for me a good life is when we are all together, Ma, Baba, Neeru and I, like we were back in the village, in our battered but cosy home, where Neeru and I used to play in the shade of the mango tree all day long, and then in the evening take the winding road to the village pond to have a bath there with the Sun, so that all three of us were all fresh for a new day, a day which would be surely better than today.

Ma*- Mother
Baba*- Father
Kaka*- Uncle
Mela*- Gathering
Gullock*- Piggy Bank
Didi*- Elder Sister

Monday, November 5, 2007

MaKe A cHaNge tHis DiwAli

Diwali. The word in itself conjures up a phase of unhindered celebration. All the mirth and jamboree amidst this glowing festival of lights! A time when people criss cross all caste and religious borders and come together to mingle in such an euphoric fete. Money does play an important role and hence people seek the blessings of goddess Lakshmi. The lure of money takes precedence in most minds. Come to think of it. On such a festive occasion, getting a bonus is the norm at most workplaces. (For me a 'bonus' boils down to 'an extra amount' of pocket money). Accumulation of wealth does lead one to go on a spending spree. Nowadays, considering the level & amount of disposable incomes, buying on instinct is what matters rather than just the need to buy. Quite true. But before buying that pair of jeans or just another pair of shoes the next time you go shopping, stop for a while and ponder. Do you really require it? Would you really be happy or is it just a means to satiate your urge to splurge? Think about it.

Have you ever pictured a poor kid's diwali? I bet Diwali is just another day or maybe a string of syllables echoing in his ears, making him yearn more and more to submerge in the festive spirit. On a day when most people put on gaudy clothes and dine at upscale restaurants, the imminent feeling of being an outcast dawns on him, albeit unknowingly. Such a gaping divide between the haves and the have-nots leaves me with a mawkish sense of disbelief. They dwell in slums and the pavements, forced to work and eking out a living to make ends meet somehow. In such a desolate state of mind, burdened with things they ought not to be thinking of & bereft of education, they wander about with the dreamy look in their eyes. Simple and innocent desires akin to a child belonging to the higher strata of society, go unnoticed and get wiped off their mind eventually. "Those eyes" reveal all. Nothing to conceal.

The truth is...making a mis fortunate child's dream come true would give us more joy than buying a mere pair of clothing. Such a profligate attitude needs to be cast aside. Maybe to some extent. This Diwali, let us part with some amount of our material wealth and donate for a cause. Instead of splurging on a plethora of crackers (yes, its tough but we can at least try!), we can utilize it to benefit the needy children.

It isn't much of an effort. It's the willingness to make a difference in the lives of the poor little ones that counts.

Remember: A generous act of yours will bring a smile on the face of the poor kid living in that alley. A smile which outweighs all the wealth in this world put together. A smile so captivating, so pure.

[With inputs from ShAkE Inc.]

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A Fading Light!

Diya, she was named! Diya which signifies light but ironically her fate made her the carriage of darkness for her family! Her mother loved her initially but couldn’t tell her, she wouldn’t have understood anyways. Then it was her father and grandma, who were expecting a male child. As if this wasn’t enough, fate played another joke, she was blind. With four more girls, her mother soon started hating her, cursing her and telling her that she was the cause of all the troubles, all this now, when she was able to understand! How much her mother wanted her to die, but she grew up, thin, lean, with a pale skin like withered leaves, rotting in the soil, with freckles all over, like a seventy year old, she grew up with the eternal wheel of time.

Time flew…Her father was no more in a job, all what he did now was drinking and drinking endlessly. A mother with a burden of four girls and one blind girl, she thought of nothing but of ways to live, to survive. All the five girls were put on the roads, in the shabbiest clothes they had, to beg, to beg for money, so that they can survive, they can live a life which was worse then death itself! Time passed and so did two of her sisters. They cried but only initially, as later they speculated that maybe another world, a world unseen was anyways better then here. They no more cried for the dead but smiled and prayed for their happiness. Diya grew up, begging, begging and begging amidst the cribbing and nagging' of her mother.

Time flew…The eldest sister was married and it was time for the other one to go to her new home. It was that day, when things went worse once again. Diya was still out there in the streets begging, not for a look of kindness but money! She used to beg near her home as her blindness limited her. She felt a pang of hunger and remembered that no one was at home, as they had gone for those little preparations left for the wedding. She felt nauseated, thinking about how it would be to see the ugly faces. She was just thirteen but the array of her mind was mature enough by now, she knew the ways of the world. Engrossed in heavy thoughts, she was crossing the pavement when even her inner world went dark!

She was lying somewhere but she felt, it was a strange place. A strong smell swept across, she tried to get up touched by the unfamiliarity of the place but then she heard her sister sobbing.

She asked her, ‘why are you crying?’

All her sister replied was, ‘you met with an accident, why do you go on the road alone, couldn’t have you waited! You always bring trouble, a quarter of money kept for my dowry has been spent on you now, who will marry me, tell me, why did you do this!’, and she went away.

Next came her mother, how desperately she wanted her to touch and kiss her, how she wanted to embrace her mother and cry in her lap but fate hadn’t destined her to experience love or bliss. All she was able to bag from her mother was a few slaps, scoldings, and a voice full of hatred, a realization that how unlucky she was. Three days after she was brought home but she didn’t hear any voice during all these hours. Both of them were quiet, maybe angry at their poor fate, she thought. However, she knew everything will be fine, she knew it. One day later, a man came and gave some money to the mother, he was asked a lot of questions but he refused to answer any. Five days later, the ‘barat’ came; her sister was finally getting married without any hassles. She heard the family of the bridegroom coming in and she knew it was time. She skipped out of the door and no one noticed her, anyways she was always ignored she thought. After a turn, a man was waiting for her, she recognized his voice, the same man who met her in the hospital, the same man who came to her home and gave money, yes, he was him. He took her in a rickshaw and they entered a building, the same strange smell swept across. She recognized the place; after all, she had spend three days there!

She was made to change and laid on something, which they were moving fast but quietly. She could hear them speaking faintly, the same voice and one of another male. Something was rubbed on her thumb and an imprint was taken on a paper. They were saying some unfamiliar words, words which she didn’t understood, words which she never had heard, words like ‘operation’, ‘kidney’, ‘doctor’ and lot of them, like that. Then she heard that word again-‘transplant’, yes, he had asked her for this and she had agreed with the only condition of those two thousand rupees. She was told that she could die too but for her the marriage seemed an imperative thing. The day was decided that very hour and she was asked to keep quiet about everything. Going through all this, she suddenly felt as if she was pricked, slowly sleep came to her. Once again, her inner world was sleeping but it had a sense of tranquility this time, she felt it! As she wilted away to an everlasting darkness, her mother lit crackers, her sister was smiling, they were happy, it was such a joyful day for them! Walking past, she noticed a flickering flame of one of the diya's, she picked it up and placed it in a sheltered place, making sure that it lit!

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Ring Of Life

The lazy December Sun removed the black coverlet it slept under and as it yawned, the first rays of sunshine peeped into Firozabad and hesitated to announce the arrival of the day. It was a new day in the December of 1985.

These were also the sunrays of hope for two families in Firozabad – Isha brought joy to Mr. And Mrs. Sinha, then childless for 11 years; Asha brought another bread earner to a five-member family of Bangle makers. And both began their journey towards their destiny…

Isha started growing up with the entire household dancing attendance upon her at every instant. Asha was another burden on a family already struggling to make the ends meet. There was no food in the house on most days and not enough clothes for the baby. So, there she was – a hungry, naked baby – whose only purpose was to grow up and get to work.

As a toddler, Isha disliked milk and would make every attempt to avoid that glass of milk every night. Soon she discovered a way that saved her the trouble of downing that liquid and yet remain the apple of everyone’s eyes. On the pretext of having milk in the garden, she would take the glass and empty it the nearest rose bush. Somewhere, not very far, a hungry wallowing Asha would have just cried herself to sleep.

Soon, it was time for Isha to join Kindergarten. She liked school, they taught such fun things there – poems, games, craft and colouring…she loved colours. Asha had grown up too by this time…watching her two sisters join the glass coils together in the flame of Kerosene lamps to form bangles and her mother, colouring and polishing the bangles. She would watch her mother for hours…Oh! How she loved the colours!

When she joined Primary School, Isha turned out to be a very bright and active student. She would score well on all the exams. In addition, she started training to be an athlete. She liked to run…she liked that swiftness. She would run so fast she felt like she would start flying any instant. In no time, her coach took her to an inter-school athletics meet and she won the first prize in the 100 metres race. The Chief Guest awarded her with a Gold Medal strung in a Blue Ribbon, she was showing it off to everyone the rest of the day.

That day was also the day when Asha made Bangles out of one whole glass coil all by herself – 312 of them. She had aligned them, joined them, painted them Blue and then polished them all by herself, sitting in the same crouched position for 2 days. She was fast, her mother had told her. Today, Asha had fulfilled her purpose…the family would get an additional Rs. 3 for the glass coil that Asha had completed. She was showing off the bunch of bangles to her siblings the whole day.

Isha was a sturdy child and remained so while she was growing up. But she would get a bad bout of cough and cold every time the season changed. Her mother would prepare some Kaadha* for her and she would be alright in 2-3 days. Asha would keep coughing too…now and then…but nobody ever noticed. The cough would subside by itself and Asha would get back to work.

Asha’s cough got worse and often she would be in bed for 3-4 days away from the Kerosene lamp and the bangles. She would feel better soon and get back to work. The bangles continued to be made and sent to Bangle Sellers in the City Market. She could not afford to be away from work for too long.

Even as Isha was about to graduate from college, her parents were receiving alliances from prospective grooms, all asking for their beautiful and talented daughter’s hand in marriage. One of the alliances, which came through family friends, was from an Engineer settled in Canada. Isha’s parents thought it would be a good match for their daughter and invited the boy’s family over to meet Isha. The rendezvous went on till late in the evening at the end of which the alliance was finalized. The marriage was to take place within a month as the groom was flying to India for a very short period. That night, Isha went to bed blushing deeply and dreaming of life in Canada.

Asha was on a bed in the Government Hospital that night. She had coughed up blood that afternoon while working. She had been coughing very violently and almost constantly of late. The doctor asked her mother some questions, drew a blood sample from her left arm and returned some time later to announce that Asha was suffering from Tuberculosis. Asha sobbed herself to sleep dreaming scary dreams.

On one hand, preparations for Isha’s marriage were in full swing; on the other, Asha had been in the hospital for almost 3 weeks then. The shopping for the marriage was almost complete with only accessories remaining to be bought. So, Isha called up 2 of her college friends to accompany her. They arrived in the City Market to buy fancy footwear, trinkets and bangles to match her ensemble. They went to the Bangle Store just before leaving and started to look around.

Isha was to wear a Blue coloured Sari for the reception and she picked up a dozen Blue-coloured bangles. She felt the glass to check if they were strong enough. In a hospital room, a grim doctor felt Asha’s dropping pulse. Isha held them against the light to see if the colour was consistent…the blue sunrays filtered through the glass and fell on Isha’s face. The doctor checked Asha’s eyes but they were dull, devoid of all light. As Isha was checking the bangles for size, she heard the musical jingle of the bangles. The doctor heard Asha’s laboured breathing. The bangles were perfect! Isha decided to buy the blue-bangles. As she handed the bangles to the shopkeeper, one of them hit the counter and broke into pieces. Asha stopped breathing. Isha picked up another similar bangle, paid for the bangles and walked off. Meanwhile, another girl, another bread earner was born somewhere in Firozabad who would make more bangles.

They were two children, born at the same moment with the same stars in their horoscope…one died uncared for in a hospital bed; the other followed her destiny to Canada. They were two children, connected by more than their stars, connected by a fragile glass ring…the ring of life.

Approximately 20,000 children work in the glassmaking and bangle-making business in Firozabad. Children as young as five work for eight hours or more in the dark rooms of their homes. Girls are usually involved in the first step of the process called “aligning”. They use kerosene or gas to apply heat to the ends of the bangles, staring into the small flames for hours and breathing in the gas fumes. The boys work mostly on the next step of the process, called “joining”—using gas or heat to complete the round shape. They, too, spend hours sitting in crouched positions, working with flames and breathing in unhealthy air. Together, the families turn the coils into bunches of bangles. Each coil makes 312 bangles for which a family earns 2.25 rupees—just five US cents—for aligning and joining.

Source: Beautiful Bangles Tell An Ugly Story About Child Labor In India By Kirsten Hongisto (November 6, 2006)

*Kaadha: A medicinal preparation of herbs that relieves cough.