One Monday evening, the hubby and I decided to skip dinner at home and head to a very popular food street in the neighborhood. This street is packed with dozens and dozens of tiny food stalls jostling for space.
Here, you can get everything from steaming hot idlis to flaming paans, from hot ginger tea to thick, creamy, cold badam milk. The entire street is a gastronomic paradise. And these items are just the tip of the foodberg.
Hubby and I spent the first half hour just doing a recce of the street. With so many stalls and so many options, it is important to carefully plot a route through it all. Fiery food first or sweet food first? Or the other way round? We settled with this order — one spicy, one sweet, one spicy, one sweet. The rhythm was established, and we embarked on our designated binge route.
As we moved from stall to stall, my eye caught a little boy, maybe 13, weaving through the crowds trying to peddle something. Whenever he turned my way, I averted my eyes. I didn’t want to buy anything other than food.
However, his size and his pitiful demeanor kept bringing my eyes back to him. I watched him go from person to person and engage in conversation. He was clutching a bunch of pens.
Almost everyone he spoke to responded to him. They treated him kindly, but the final action was a negative nod of the head. Whatever it was he was selling, they didn’t want it.
Finally, I could resist no more. The hubby was deep in a long queue of people waiting to lay hands on the softest, hottest, idlis I have ever seen. I was just standing around and salivating. When the little boy approached me, I was ready for the conversation.
He was selling instant tattoos. He had a clutch of different colored gel pens and he offered to draw a tattoo on my hand with them. He even had various designs on offer.
I could see why people were refusing. One cannot be sure about the quality of the pens being used. Who knows how the skin might react to such a tattoo.
I politely told him that I did not want a tattoo. I asked him if he went to school. He said yes, and that he was in 8th standard. He moved on to his next target.
He was mild, polite, and not pushy. And yet, in the half an hour that I had been watching him threading his way through potential customers, not one person had bought his service.
A Brainwave in the Nick of Time
I was upset. I wanted to help, and yet, I was unsure about the potential health risk. Suddenly, I had an idea. I rummaged in my tote for a piece of paper. I found a couple of old receipts. That would do. Aha, there is value in hanging on to copies of old receipts!
I looked around frantically for the boy, and called him over. I told him to draw a tattoo on the paper. In fact, I asked for two. I had two receipts after all. He gave me his list of options. I settled for ‘mom and dad’ and ‘rose’.
The boy spent the next 15 minutes painstakingly drawing the two designs on the paper. I marveled at his talent, patience, and energy. He finished both the pieces, I paid him, he told me a polite ‘thank you’, and went off to find the next customer.
Hard Work, Honesty, Dignity
At 9 pm on a week night, having finished school in the morning, and probably other chores at home, here he was, patiently selling his talent. I am sure he had to get up early again the next day to go to school.
I had already observed him for an hour. He made one sale in all that time, and earned Rs. 100. But his body language showed no impatience or anger or wretchedness. He was going about it all in such a matter-of-fact manner.
My heart went out to this honest and hardworking boy. While most other kids his age were probably sitting in their comfortable homes watching TV, and eating a hot meal, here he was, trying to eke out a living to support the family back home in his own tiny way.
My respect for the boy grew over that hour. He believed in hard work. He believed in an honest job. When someone refused to buy his service, he just politely moved on. He wasn’t indulging in gathering pity, nor was he begging. He had self-respect and dignity.
In my heart, I blessed him and wished him a happy future.