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Creation and Criticism

 ISSN: 2455-9687 

(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal

Devoted to English Language and Literature)

July-Oct 2018

Begging Children in Shobhaa De’s Superstar India: From Incredible To Unstoppable

Madhu Bala Saxena 


Shobha De, a celebrated writer of the contemporary India, is gifted with an extraordinary knack of painting the reality. Her creative works are facsimiles of Indian society. No aspect or feature pleasant or unpleasant of the society is left unobserved by her keen sight. Because of her realistic social painting in bold strokes, she has secured a promising place amongst the most prominent and prestigious persons of contemporary Indian English literature. Shobha De has penned mainly novels that are best-selling.


She is addicted to writing. Before writing Superstar India: From Incredible To Unstoppable, David Davidar from Penguin office asked about her planning of a new book. She instantly replied, “I am always planning a new book” (vii). This time her plan was to write an India book. She declared, “An India book. I  must have  sounded  pretty  impassioned as I  took  off on  how I feel about the country… and  my own  life,  seen  through that  filter,  given the  fact and  I are the  same age” (vii). Her book soon came into market and achieved immense popularity. She has portrayed with her pen brush so many images of India— bright and dark.


In this book, she draws the clumsy image of India and compares the affluent with the penniless, the monuments witt the jhuggis and jhopadies, the industrial area with rural surroundings, the natural setting of villages with the great infrastructure along with the great communication system, the glittering malls, the delirious shoppers’ packed food, the dazzling sound of cars, clothes, bathrooms tiles of big cities, etc. This is India where on one side people are leading a  luxurious  life with every  comfort of  life without peace of mind, and  on  the other  side  people  are standing in queue with bowls in their hands to get something from the pockets of the rich  fellows. The Economic Times remarks, “Vintage Shobhaa De with scathing take-offs on everything, from the caste  system to male chauvinism, from sex to social  pretension… in  other  words,  it  is  all  great  fun.”  Here  a  small  portion  of  the  book  has  been  selected  in  order to see Shobhaa De’s portrayal of begging children in free and so called  economically  developed  India. 


Even after 70 years old free India, the condition of the children of the needy is very pitiable. They  from  their  infancy have  to  learn  to live  empty  stomachs and  any  how  they  grow   up  as  children  and  they  are  sent  to  earn  their  food. Shobhaa De is very much shocked that the children of free India are not getting their dues.  Once  she  visits  Agra on  the eve of  Christmas,  she gets  an  opportunity  of  watching  the children , the poor  children who are  deprived of their human right of getting education because of  their parents’ penury. At an early age, they are compelled by their parents to work to fill their bellies themselves. Child  labour  is  rampant in every  corner  of  the  country, particularly  in metro-cities or highly  industrial  areas, where there  is  much  need  of  work  force.  Shobhas  De writes  in  her  book,  whatever  she observes  in  Agra,  a  KAVAL town, famous  for stone  work  and  leather  work, “Children  who’d  never been  inside a school room were lifting stones and sweeping  the  discarded  dust  from  finished grilles. Their earnings were pitiful. Their eyes blank, their bellies bloated. But at least they aren’t starving,” Mr Dubey (a hired guide) said thoughtfully. “Yes, at least they weren’t starving” (7).  De seems surprised to hear his words. Our country’s government is satisfied with providing physical need— food to children, not mental food to them.


Begging is an earning means of children in India. They are thrust in this at  their  age  of  playing  and  studying  either  by their needy  parents  or  by  some  culprits  who pick  them  from their  schools  or  playgrounds. This heinous practice of earning is nowhere seen so much as in India.  Here the poor persons of every age, sex and disability are indulged in this profession. Male, female, children, youths and old of the poor category choose it as an easy way to earn for supporting their life.  Man can live without education but not without food. Shobhaa De tells a fellow-traveler during her journey to Mumbai, “Maims, kids, lepers, drunks, drug addicts…peddlers…take your pick” (15). Begging  in  India  has  turned  into   a  profession and  for  the sake  of  its flourishing  , so  many  ways are  being adopted  by  its starters  and leaders. The children   are  picked up  or  stolen from  the  roads,  parks, schools, markets,  bus stands,  railway  stations. They fall into  the  clutches of culprits who provide  training of  begging in  the custody  of more wicked  persons  in lock up without  food  and  water. Shobha  De writes  in  her book, “Now  that  we  know  that  beggars  come  under the  organized  sector, and  work  systematically  for  other  beggars  who  control  territories, ...”(15).


In the present time the whole process has changed. One or two decades ago, begging was done in a very simple manner. The beggars used to beg door to door. They were often seen sitting on the road sides, platforms of temples, mosques, churches and  the pavements, in front of bus stand and railway station. They rarely run away to take away the bag and baggage of the travelers. But today the scenario of begging is completely changed. It is converted into stealing. It has become more complicated as the beggars are alert, bold, smart and skilled in this art.  Shobhaa De comments on this art of begging and imagines of more expert beggars in future. “Now, they bang on the car. Tomorrow, they’ll feel bolder…. Maybe they’ll throw a rock… drag you out and strip off your jewellery…” (16).


From the very outset, children are taught how to beg or steal or snatch the things from the strangers. They have become imposters. The  children  are sent  with  a bunch  of  flowers  and  a small pile of books in their hands at the traffic signals to sell,  but  their mission is  to  grab some valuables from  the car  seat. These  words of  Shobhaa De say  the same  thing, “Often the  tiny  tots selling flowers  or books at  traffic  signals  barely  come  up  to  the  window. A small  hand  is raised,  clutching gajras of  fragrant  jasmine,  or  a  bunch  of  paper Indian  flags.  Soon  a  grubby  face  follows… the kid  is  on tip-toe and staring at a shiny object on the car seat… perhaps a glistening  mobile  phone  or an iPod. Sometimes, the fascination is reserved for the watch on the wrist, or pretty bangles. There is no attempt to sell or beg” (16). The  tiny  beggars  are  so  smart,  alert  and  cunning  that  as  soon  as  they get  a  chance, they  run  away  to  pick away  costly  gadgets  from  the car  seat. Such events are so common now-a-days that people ignore them thinking as a usual matter.


In our country, there is no lacking of talent. Indians utilize their talent in every work— good as well as bad.  In this matter, men folk are master mind. They  remain behind  the  curtain and get  their  work  done  by  their wives  or  children.  In case of beggary, others’ females or children are mostly employed. A pen-portrait of child begging is drawn by Shobhaa De in the following lines: “It is heart-breaking and poignant. Sometimes, you see teenage mothers, children themselves, with infants strapped to their chest in improvised slings made out of old sarees. The matted hair, hollow eyes and twig like bodies suggest disease and malnutrition— perhaps, full- blown AIDS. The infant with a bloated belly is barely alive” (16). What do these child females do in this pose? They are forced by their gang master to beg or steal.  Whatever they can do, they do to bring money for him.


Begging requires some qualities in the children. They must be gifted with melodious but heart-rending voice so that they may succeed in captivating the hearers by their painful song. Their masters make them learn hit Bollywood songs; ask them to sing with dance. Besides, these child beggars must be very active, fearless and prompt in crossing the road while the heavy vehicles are running in full swing. Shobhaa De says, “You watch the intrepid kids darting between whizzing limos, deftly avoiding motorcyclists and auto rickshaws, a monster BEST bus…. Often they’re singing the latest Bollywood hit ‘Krazy Kiya Re’… and shaking their hips to the rhythm.” De is amazed to see their energy, activity and joviality. She questioned herself, “Where does that enviable spirit come from? How come I don’t smile, sing or dance as much?” (17).


It is a serious matter because a child is the father of a man. He is the maker of the country. The progress and prosperity of a family, a society and a country lies in the hands of a child.  De observes, “The future is here— and it is appallingly youthful.  These are the new kids on the block.  India’s hopes, dreams and aspirations rest with them” (xi).  So if  he  is deprived of  his  rights  by  the  government, neglected by  the  society, spoiled  and  misused  by  the rogues, the dream of  bright future of  the country  is  futile.  The  economic boom, IT  triumphs and rise  of  Sensex cannot please, if by  their side, our children are standing in naked body with empty bowls in their hands, begging bread, stealing costly  gadgets from somebody’s vehicle. It is very shameful. Shobhaa De exclaims, “They stand like pathetic reminders of our national shame, under gigantic billboards proclaiming proudly, ‘India Poised.’ ‘2008 is India’s Moment.’ Poised for what? The moment celebrating which aspect of ourselves? The sexy Sensex? The booming economy? Our IT triumphs?” (17). A few selected millionaires and billionaires cannot wipe the spot of shame from the face of free India. India is becoming global  and a few  Indians are in the race of winning the global badge of recognition, but a few cannot make the country  great . There is the utmost need of eradication of poverty, the escape of the child beggars from the clutches of the culprits and the abolition of beggary.


Work Cited:


De, Shobhaa. Superstar India: From Incredible To Unstoppable. Delhi, Penguin Books, 2009. Print.



About the Author:


Dr Madhu Bala Saxena worked as Professor and Head of English Department of IFTM University, Moradabad and Associate Professor and Head of English Department of M.H.P.G. College, Moradabad, U.P. She is M.A. in Sanskrit and English and her doctoral degree in English is on Treatment of Human Relations in the Novels of Somerset Maugham. She has been writing research papers and book reviews for various journals and magazines and guiding research scholars of English Literature for the last thirty five years. Her main interest lies in Indian Literature in English, particularly in Indian English Fiction. She can be contacted at