Sunday, February 8, 2009

Papu's Life, Sanchi, India, June 1980

THERE WERE MANY MOMENTS DECADES AGO AMID THE PASSAGE BETWEEN A WORLD IN THE WEST AND HOME IN NEPAL...

ALL OF THEM WERE PART OF THE (POST-GRAD) EDUCATION OF A YOUNG AMERICAN.

TODAY I OPENED AN OLD JOURNAL AND FOUND THIS VIGNETTE WHERE PAPU'S LIFE AND MINE INTERSECTED.

NO SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, PAPU, JUST ANOTHER TWO RUPEE DAY IN THE LIFE OF ONE OF G-D'S PRECIOUS LITTLE CREATURES..

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"Papu! Duo Pani, Papu." (Bring us two glasses of water.)

Papu scrambled around the wooden makeshift tables outside and disappeared behind the stacks of Nova soda bottles.

It was late already. The sugar cane juice stand had just shut off its electricity. The dusty road was quiet. The Sikhs had ridden their Enfield motorcycles back to the nearby industrial city. Only a few tea stand restaurants ("hotels") remained open. Most of those who stayed were the young employed with a bit of cash to spend. They sat drinking a local rose water brew, listening to the latest election results by radio.

Papu reappeared from the shadows. "Duo pani.", he announced proudly, then sat down grinning.

Papu. Such a funny name. "Is Papu his real name?", I asked my local companion, sitting with me that evening in Sanchi, India. He turned to the boy and asked my question in Hindi.

"No, Deviram is his name. Devi is a female goddess and Ram is Ram [a legendary figure, hero of the Ramayana]"

"How old is he?", I asked. (again in translation)

"He doesn't know. Maybe 10, 11 or 12. That's his older brother over there making chapatis (round, flat bread).

"How many children are there in his family?

"Papu, ....?"

He says he has 3 brothers and 2 sisters. His father works as a gardener at the nearby Archeological Gardens of the Sanchi Stupa.

"How many hours a day does Papu work?"

Well, he starts about 6 or 7 am, then stays here until 9 or 10 pm. He's a poor boy. He doesn't go to school. He's a Scheduled Caste (Dalit -- the "Harijan" Gandhi spoke of as the "Children of God"). He can't afford to go to school. There he'd have to pay; here he gets paid.

"How much a day?", I inquire.

Two rupees.

"Two rupees??!!?"

Yes, labor is cheap in India. There's a lot of unemployment. Papu's happy to have work. He makes a little money and gets his meals free. For him this is a good life. There are many worse off than he. He knows that. His father, after all, makes 180 rupees/month, without meals, and, you know, he has to support a whole family on that.

Trust me, this little boy isn't complaining...