'Chotu! zara do half chai to le aa'
...and nine year old Mohan, yes that's his name which even he seems to be forgetting now, with his three and a half feet of body frame scrambles to place the order. Be it Mohan from Bihar, Kartik from U.P. or Pradeep from Orissa, all proper nouns loose their significance and get reduced to just 'Chotu!' here.
Here, in Jia Sarai.
Jia Sarai, a very small place near IIT Delhi, Haus Khaz would have been unnoticeable in the high rising concrete earth, had it not been one of the hubs of Civil Services aspirants who flock to Delhi year after year. And as it often happens in this world of celebrated contradictions, the irony is that it is here, in the home for 'official change agents' of 'emerging superpower India', where flourishes the most accepted form of child labor in eateries, dhabas, restaurants, teashops, hotels and in domestic help. Even the widely hailed amendment in the Child Labor (Prohibition & Regulation) Act 1986, which came into force on 10th October 2006, has failed to reduce the plight of these children. The toll free 24-hour telephone help line 1098 for children in distress, easily remembered in Hindi as Dus Nau Aath, operating in 72 cities of the country appears to be more of a mockery here!
There are about 200 houses cluttered together in Jia Sarai, defying all civil engineering laws, with a food-joint after every third house. And in every food joint, one can find at least 2-3 children working tirelessly to feed the future bureaucrats of India. Children less than 10 years of age, carrying 10-12 Tiffins and barely able to walk is a very common sight. A detailed survey of this place points out that almost every part of India is represented here, not only by the Civil Services aspirants but also by the children working here.
A typical day of work, which inevitably is every single day of the month, starts at 6 in the morning and finishes at 11 in the night. None of these children are paid more than Rs 1000 per month, which comes down to a paltry sum of Rs 30-35 per day. Add to this the regular beatings that they receive at the hands of their maaliks, and you have a perfect recipe for disaster. The age of innocence seems to be a distant past, if it ever existed for them.
But Mohan manages to smile amidst all this misery. He fondly says, pointing to a class IX NCERT book that some aspirant gave him,
'Eak din main bhi collector banoonga.'
And then he scrambles again to place the order.