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Columns & Archives

Along with the daily feature articles from our columnists, read works from our past contributors in the categories of prose, poetry and visual art, alongside interviews and other musings.


‘Boy In The Bylane’ by Satyarth Pandita

Men are angels born without wings, nothing could be nicer than to be born without wings and to make them grow. - Jose Saramago

"Don't forget the coriander," shouted my mother from inside the kitchen as soon as I stepped outside the house to go and buy the groceries.

It was a hot day, just like any other day of June. The sky was blue with beautifully puffed clouds, betraying exquisite designs. The sunlight was so bright that everything around it sprang to life and the sunshine traced the contours of the trees, the houses, the shops and everything that came in its way. Street dogs dodged the scorching heat of the sun by laying under the cool shade of trees. I moved along to the end of the street.

My hand unintentionally neared a leaf to be plucked when my eyes caught sight of a boy. Sitting on his haunches, he was at one corner, busy with some used and now useless articles. As I stood there, he lifted his chin to look at me but went immediately back to his job as if I was not there. On closer inspection, I figured out the articles included some plastic bottles, broken toys, dirty thermocol sheets, gunny bags and empty beer cans. Beside him lay several rusted iron nails of varying sizes and some wire pieces. I took him for a rag picker and, without paying him much thought, marched forward to get the groceries.

After half an hour, when I returned from the market, I saw the boy still busy with his task. He had now changed his position into a more comfortable cross-legged position. His head was bent forward and down with his arms resting on both his knees. Dressed in a torn undershirt and tattered shorts, his skin was dark and tanned from sitting under direct sunlight and he was all soaked in sweat. The sweat trickled down his forehead and reflected the gaze of the sun, which, for a moment, lit his dark face with a queer sort of beauty and innocence. The blazing heat of the sun had turned his ears red, but it seemed pleasing to him, as if the sun had infused in him a sense of power to create something. He seemed to be wholly absorbed in his work, no longer distracted by anything external. He had separated the bottle caps from various plastic bottles and arranged them based on their size.

Leaving the boy busy with his chore, I headed home. As I walked towards the verandah of my home, I noticed the flowerpot that I kept there along with several others. I had bought the young plant for ten bucks and it had small pink flowers at the time, but when I planted it in the pot and kept it on the verandah there were no flowers to be seen. It seemed as if the bloomed flowers had traced a step back into their bud phase.

It had been five or six days since I had bought the plant with pink flowers, but now the flowers refused to bloom. The thing irked me. I wondered what might have been the reason for them not blooming. Then I spent some time surfing online to know what kind of plant it was. I had bought it from a roadside vendor, hence he did not know much about that plant, so neither did I. Some moments later, I finally managed to gather information about that plant.

It was Portulaca grandiflora, better known by names like ross moss, sun rose, rock rose and eleven o'clock. It was a small but fast-growing plant which required sunlight and well-drained soils. It would bloom only when it got sufficient sunlight. However, under shade or on days when the clouds veiled the sun, the plant failed to produce any flowers and remained dormant. The moment I got to know about the plant, I lifted the pot and placed it at a spot under direct sunlight. Doing that, I returned to my room.

The next morning, at around 10.30 when I was busy reading a book, I heard some noise outside the window. Sounds as if someone was scratching sandpaper on a rough surface. To check it out I went outside and saw the same boy from the previous day pulling a beer can, carton box and other stuff with wheels underneath them. It was a toy trolley car. The boy had made himself a toy, a gift, and he seemed glad. He possessed the power of infusing meaning in the refuse. He held it in his hands, and his enthusiasm and excitement surpassed the dazzle of the sun. I called the boy and asked what his name was.

"Ganesh," he replied.

"Do you study?" I questioned.

"No," he replied.

"Where do you live?" I inquired.

"There," he pointed towards a plot of land with kutcha houses of daily wage workers.

I asked him how much time it took him to make this toy trolley car.

"45 minutes," he replied.

He did not talk much. He kept answering in monosyllables.

"Did you go to school before?" I asked.


"Then why don't you attend school anymore?"

"My mother got me unenrolled," he replied dejectedly.

I then asked him to hold his design in his hands so that I could take a picture of him. He got excited and posed with his toy in his hand. I was amazed as to how a boy of his age with no schooling managed to build himself a source for his happiness. An empty beer can, a dirty and used thermocol sheet, a discarded carton box; rusted iron nails and several plastic bottle caps had come together in an assembly by virtue of the boy's genius to give meaning to their newly acquired form.

The way Ganesh had sewn together these elements together with iron nails and steel wires, the way he had perfectly aligned and oriented the axle of his trolley car, the way he had architecture the design of his creativity--it all reflected the genius of those children out there who are just like the sun rose. If they received the right amount of sunlight, they could blossom in full bloom, but, alas, all they got in their life was shade.

Rewarding the boy for his achievement, I handed him some money. A smile of happiness lingered on his lips, more akin to triumph, and he picked up the string attached to the front part of the trolley car, leaving and dragging the toy behind him. I entered my house, closed the gate and walked past the spot where I had shifted the flower pot the previous day. It greeted me with an exotic bloom.

I retired back to read my book. I picked it up at the point where I had dog eared the page and read, "the future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways."

And I asked myself, "does it?"

Satyarth Pandita is a BS-MS undergraduate student in Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal. He is doing his major in Biological Sciences. He has a keen interest in science, literature and cinema. For him, the journey of writing began with sending short stories and paintings to Springer (Monthly Children's Magazine) and now many of his short stories, essays and articles have been published in the state newspaper like Daily Excelsior, State Times and magazines like Ayaskala and Kitaab. He keeps posting his write-ups on his blog: panditasatyarth.wordpress.com.

Editor: Oskar Leonard (@ozzywrites)

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