” ‘Run! Run! Lost boy!’ they said to me, away from all the reality. Neverland is the home for lost boys like me. And lost boys like me are free.”
Somewhere during the monsoons of the 87′ ,
The warmth of the sun, mixed with the moving train’s breeze hit my face. It was morning already. The sunshine’s gracious presence shook me up away from my usual grumpy morning self. I wish I could’ve been in the mental state to enjoy the serene beauty around me. The monsoons made the gorgeous little hills glisten, a silent breeze and the sunshine together isn’t something you’re blessed to see everyday, but I wasn’t on a peace trip or a self exploration tour to enjoy this. The reason why I’m here, it is something serious, something scarier, something preventing the smile that would’ve crept up on my face.
“You’re awake so soon!”
Murli asked me with a amused expression on his face, slowly stirring that plastic chai cup in his hands. I nodded assuringly at him, to which he smiled back.
“Would you like to have some chai? Nothing can beat the taste of our Indian trains’s chai!”
He beamed at me.
I smiled slowly at him, which he took as an yes and smiled back at me more happily. He handed me a plastic cup half-filled with chai, which I gladly accepted and later handed him some chillars for it.
You don’t need to repay me for small things like this.
You’ve helped me with bigger things which I could never repay!
I almost thought we had father and son kind of relationship going on!”
He gave me a playfully-hurt look to me.
Now, don’t play these mind games with me! Just get the money already!”
I said in a deadly firm tone, narrowing my eyes at him.
It was true that I saw him as my own son, but I wasn’t the kind of man who knew to show people how much I actually cared for them. ‘Maybe thats why your own son left you.’ My conscience told me, I ignored it, just like I always did.
“For a second there, I thought you were a nice person.” Murli mumbled to himself wryly.
As playful and childish this nineteen year old appears to be, he was more than a ‘child’.
The society divided people onto two classes, ‘The rich’ and ‘The poor’. He belonged to neither of them.
Maybe somewhere, in the thin line between these two classes was where he belonged. The rich were the people who had enough sources to not worry about tomorrow’s survival. The poor were simply the opposite of the rich.
By money, Murli was richer than me and anyone I knew, but he did have to worry about his survival the next day. And that’s simply what made these boys different.
They all had the same story, my boy no different. Sons of well off fathers and forefathers, yet they chose to live on streets. Independence, they called it. I never quite got the motive behind it.
“Ravi is a nice boy sir”
Murli smiled, breaking off the silence which lurched from nowhere.
“I raised him.
I know well enough about him.” My ego replied.
“You didn’t sir.. That’s why he came here..” Murli mumbled faintly.
I pretended to not have heard that. I did. I did knew I’m the reason my boy ran away from his own home. I knew the reality. My boy, who had enough guts to handle the scariest, sin and hunger filled streets of Mumbai, didn’t have enough courage to handle his own father. Was I that scary? Is that how much I’ve terrified my own son? Sure, his examination results were important to me, but how can they get more important than him to me? Why did he fail to realize this? Why did he choose this poverty flourished, hunger glorified lifestyle?
“You’re not a bad man sir.”
Murli spoke out of nowhere, like he had heard my thoughts.
I gave him a blank stare.
“You’re not a bad man sir.”
“You just act that way.”
I blinked. He was right. I failed to come up with anything back to him.
“You’re soft and sensitive sir.
Under this hard and stubborn exterior. Ravi just failed to bring your soft side out.”
“Why did you leave your home?”
I shot back. Something I promised myself during the start of this journey was to never get involved in this boy’s life, but I couldn’t help it anymore.
He laughed dryly.
“Did your parents abuse you?”
I asked. What could’ve possibly happened to a boy, with one such a mature mind, that he decides to leave his home?
A one word faint reply came from him.
Not wanting to pester him more, I let my curiosity down and turned towards the windowsill, gently pushing away the rain drops at the edges of those iron bars with my dry fingers.
“I was born in Bangalore. ”
Murli suddenly spoke.
I turned towards him suddenly, making him pause for a second. I then motioned him to speak again.
“No siblings. Single child. ”
“My father was a very rich man.
So was grandfather, so was his father. The money’s been there for generations.
My mom wasn’t a rich woman unlike them, but she was smart and educated. Appa fell in love with her, for she was intellectual and charming.
They got married and I was born.
When I was 13 Amma started getting sick.
At the start of her illness, Appa took very good care of her.
But as her health started declining, his morals started declining.
His alcohol addictions and extramarital affairs put me on rage.
So after mom died, I decided there was nothing else to cherish there.
Home was not that Bunglaow we lived, it was Amma, appa and something I called a family. When I lost both of them to life, I decided there was no use inhaling bricks and stones, instead of…instead of.. Love.
I didn’t just have a family anymore, I was denied of love.
So I just chose to walk off..”
It took me long enough to come with a response. This boy was hardly 15 or 16, yet that child’s eyes bore so much pain.
For a minute there, I saw my own son in him.
I did something that surprised myself. I hugged him tight. The boy suddenly burst out crying, hugging me back tighter. That moment, I felt enlightened. I knew where exactly I went wrong in raising my son.
I realized all he needed was not a guard, it was a dad.
We didn’t speak anything after that. Murli took me to Ravi’s place. A small rusted and old, leaking shutter where two average weighted humans could fit in. For people like me, it was hard to even peep inside.
I knocked the rusted iron door.’ Ravi’ came out. He was shocked, he dropped whatever his hands held upon, his eyes teared up.
He took in long breaths. Words failed to come out from his mouth. He opened his mouth gasping, while his eyes blurred up with water, yet, he was smiling.
“Have you gone dumb already?” I scolded playfully, my cheeks felt sticky, that’s when I realized I’ve unaware of my own tears.
He pounced on me, hugging me tight. The last time I hugged him was the day he was born where I hugged him tight against my chest, while his tiny fingers held my thumb. Under normal circumstances, I, the great so and so, would’ve not let my boy touch me .’Crying was for the weak.’ I’d have scolded him.
But here I was, crying for the first time in my own life.
His soft and delicate arms were coal black and rough. For hours, I listened to my son share his terrible work experiences in that dreadful chemical factory where he handled the hot iron plates bare handed.
At home my wife would be grunting all day about how her baby’s hands will hurt writing long homework. She would lose her mind if she were to see him today.
I kept his palm inside mine looked at him and smiled. He was very dark, dirty and shabby.
We washed him for hours. Clothed him neatly. I realized, he had gotten so skinny by now.
“Do you even eat?”
“Yes.” One faint murmur came.
“How many meals?” I narrowed my eyes at him.
He looked at Murli before answering “One time a day.”
“What do you do with the money you earn?”
This time I turned towards Murli and asked.
“We eat a meal on it sir. Half goes on our living.
We lend the rest, to people worser than us. “
“Is it even possible for people to live on worser conditions than this?”
I openly wondered.
“Unfortunately, yes sir. Take a walk down these streets if you doubt my words. ”
Murli assured me.
I knew he wasn’t lying.
“Do you want to come back home?”
I asked my son.
“Take him sir. ”
Murli replied instead of Ravi.
And that made it.
I took my son, Ranga, named after my father, the proud old Navy officer, Ranganathan, who lived by the name Ravi here, to our own home. It took months for him to settle back, to his normal life. But our father son relationship was never the same anymore. It was better, so was my now adult son. He’d got enough experience in life to provide his father the security, he haf longed all these years, to give to his family.
On a trip to Bangalore, I happened to meet Murli’s father coincidentally. Who then realized his mistakes and was living a pathetic life, praying for his son to come back. Never have I ever broke a promise, Never have I ever unkept my words, but by then I decided to break a promise i made to myself and Murli by taking him back to his father.
He wasn’t initially happy with my decision. But when he saw his reformed, guilt struck father in crippling depression, crying for his son, he melted.
His father got his son back, Murli got his family back. And I, I got an immense pleasure on getting to see this happen.
Murli is a multimillionaire today. He’s got an empire under him. 20 years later I remember reading an article about him, and it stating how he easily had got it all in life, to which he had simply replied
“Well, you haven’t lived my life.”
Maybe the lost boys are still there. Somewhere running around the slums of Bombay, almost killing themselves slowly each day for the purpose of bare survival. I don’t know if they do exist anymore. Neither do I want to know.