(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.