Sitting in the waiting room in Sealdah Station, I was busy writing some columns. Suddenly a boy aged 9-10 came to me with his polish box. “Babu (Sir) Polish”, he told me. I ignored him first since this is a common site at this Station. Seeing no response from me he repeated the same. I replied, “No”. But he kept reiterating few more times. I was unable to hear him more. “I don’t allow children to polish my shoes”, I replied. He could not understand my words. He tried to interpret my words and replied, “No Babu, I will make your shoes shine”. Naturally why should he be concerned with the waves in my brain about child labour in India? He was still near to me. “Ok sir, no polish, only cleaning”, he told me looking at my shoes. My leather shoes were covered with dust, since it could not be cleaned since last day .This time I forgot to carry my shoe brush and polish as I am accustomed to do on my trips.
His patience attracted my attention towards him. His face was dry, hairs unkempt, full shirt with sleeves folded up to his skinny biceps, buttons were missing and a safety pin was carelessly tied in place of buttons. He was carrying the polish box several brushes tucked in it .But he had nicely arranged the down portion of shirt (under shirting) in his blue half pants. Obviously he looked the little cobbler. He had still hopes from me seeing my considerate eyes. “I will clean your shoes, 1 rupee Babu”. Oh! Child Labour @ 1.00 Rs. I was shocked. Naturally I was more inquisitive in him than his brush. I told him to sit on the chair near to me. Now he felt easy and started telling how he left his school, how his right hand burnt, how his younger brother earns more than him. But still his gaze was more interested in my dirty shoes than my queries. I wanted to avoid his innocent gaze. I asked him if I give money without polishing the shoes, will he leave me. He nodded his head and told, “Yes”. I gave him the coins available to me in my upper pocket. I did not have any better option at that point of time.
He went unaffected taking coins from me. He gaze was still on the shoes of other person’s .Similarly he requested the other gentleman sitting near to the gate. And he was busy shining his shoes. The “gentleman” was helpful to the boy. I was feeling helpless……..