The office was conspicuously silent that day, foreboding some unfortunate event. I loved it anyway, because it gave a deafening silence which is favourable to the busy-ing fingers that fiddled the keys of my obnoxious laptop. My brain was captivated by the sirens of the virtual world. They were screaming louder than the silence of the office.
It was a picnic day for Paathshala children. The whole of Paathshala servitors had gone for a picnic. They had taken the children to an amusement park named ‘Dream Valley’. Dream Valley is virtually a valley of Dreams for our children. It had quite a few pieces of equipment for jolly play, like the delightful swings and scary slides, and most of them really styled to the childish artistic taste. There are some joyous rides on horses and camels; a boat ride along an artificial pond that circumscribed an elevated islet. Then there were rabbits, huge red leghorns, and the curious emu with the unusually huge eggs laid bare and uncared for. There were steady dinosaurs, who scared them all, but never moved their paw a bit! Finally, there was a pool, huge enough for all to jump in; That was the best of all. Ah! Further Dream Valley has a special love for us; they never limit food for our children. That’s something they do for us.
Well, the silence of the office was broken when Anand just bashed the door open and sprang in. He is a sprightly young man who had recently joined the servitors. He was pleading with Vivek, who walked in with his usual stateliness.
“Bhaiya, you can take Shanu to his house. I will stay here until you come. Please”
Vivek’s greatest strength is his inordinate expressions and controlled responses. He follows Steven Covey’s first rule of delayed responses! Anand was being defeated again and again because he knew by this time that every servitor is more than just a teacher or social worker: He is a parent to his student; she’s a sister to the disempowered women.
Behind Vivek, trailed in Shanu. We were waiting for Shanu since by this time we had heard what happened to Shanu. Shanu is one of the young kids, whom we have known for a long time. He can be distinguished from the other kids by the uncharacteristic heftiness he carries among the skinny kids of the slum.
During the pleasant chaos of childish mirth that marks our children’s picnic, Shanu stumbled over some obstacle and fell headlong, breaking his arm. He was rushed to a nearby orthopaedic where they x-rayed a fractured arm. A cast was put on his arm and was taken back to the picnic spot. However, the servitors thought it best for him to go home and take rest. That is how Vivek and Anand carried him back to the office, where he might rest for a while and then take him home. Shanu’s parents are rag-pickers like most of the slum dwellers, and so Shanu had to wait at the office for a while.
I asked Shanu to come to my room, where I could talk to him. I spoke to him for a while. But Shanu was reluctant to speak. I saw him fairly distracted from everything and I thought he wants to be left alone. We gave him a glass of milk; all the while he was surveying the corners of my office room. I asked him if he was hurting really bad. Shanu was silent and did not answer. Then I saw a tear trickling from the boy’s eyes. It would have been grievously hurting, and he could have been in pain for a while. But his growing manhood does not want to admit pain. I sat for a while with him not speaking a word. That’s the best I could do.
Anand then popped in to resolve his matter of taking Shanu home. He hardly noticed Shanu’s tears. He startled me with his blunt excuse.
“Bhaiya (brother), I am not going to Shanu’s house. Let Vivek take him to his house.”
“Why” I enquired.
“I don’t know what to say to his parents.”
“Well, Anand… This is a job now.” I snapped.
Anand was quiet. He knew he did not have a valid excuse. He turned with a steadied posture in a determination to take the young kid to his home. I turned to Shanu and wanted Shanu to be ready to go home. The boy would be desperate to go home, I guessed. I repeated my rhetorically stupid question, with a blighted tone of comfort.
“Are you hurting, son.”
Anand then burst out in rude laughter, puzzling me. He snapped back at me.
“Bhaiya, Shanu wants to go back to the picnic! That’s why he’s crying. He has been begging Vivek to take him back to the picnic spot. Vivek said no to that.”
I glanced at Shanu. I saw Shanu’s guilty countenance fall in shame as if he was a thief caught red-handed. It was true! The boy just wanted to be with his friends and teachers and did not want to miss the fun!
O’ Pain, where is thy sting? O’ hurt, where is thy victory?