By Siddharth Srivastava
My attention would not have been drawn to 10-year old Kaku under usual circumstances. It did, as our collective consciousness has been seized by the recent Shakti Mills gangrape in Mumbai and the death of the brave Nirbhaya. I recently met Kaku just by chance at a park in Gurgaon, where I live. I take my three-year old daughter Alaynah there in the evenings.
Over the last decade, Gurgaon has witnessed stupendous growth, driven primarily by private enterprise and a builder-politician mafia that has dominated real estate space. Property prices quote more than New York, while glitzy malls, high rises, MNCs offices, big cars, golf courses, international schools and state-of-the-art hospitals abound. The metro is pretty much world class.
Just a decade back Gurgaon was a desolate area, the foothills of the Aravali Hills and contiguous to the arid land of Rajasthan.
Today, down the road from Kaku’s park are bungalows that boast private swimming pools, with kids being transported to destinations by chauffeur driven BMW’s and Mercedes Benz cars. The government, as usual, has failed to keep pace with development. Roads, power, law and order, water supply, garbage and sewage disposal systems managed by the administration continue to be abysmal, third class and third world. A CEO sitting inside his/her plush office in Gurgaon could be a scene from anywhere in the first world, New York, London, Singapore.
Outside, the potholed roads, traffic jams, overflowing muck, cows ambling about, can only be India. Kaku’s park is frequented by a lively lot of thin malnourished kids of lowly paid construction workers that are near permanent residents of Gurgaon due to the relentless building activity.
Needless to say, the kids are poor, unkempt, unclean, wear frayed clothes with nosey invariably dripping during winter.
Alaynah somehow has more fun at Kaku’s park. There are the enclosed, out-of-bounds for outsiders and especially slum kids, gated parks patronized by children of regular middle class and respectable families.
Here kids tend to fight and quarrel a bit about fancy toys, cycles, cricket bats and balls. Alaynah thus finds the common open park near our house more to her liking. Children here do not possess any toys or cycles, so there is nothing to fight about.
I am okay as long as she has fun though I must admit I make sure she does not get too close to the other children. Given her usual protected environment, Alaynah’s immunity levels cannot match her play mates.
Kaku’s park, like other public areas managed by authorities, is badly maintained. The grass is uncut, the benches are broken and flower beds shorn. The swings and slides made of stronger material have somehow survived and thus a source of immense joy to the many little kids devoid of other toys in their life.
I happened to speak to Kaku as he sat quietly on the swing adjoining Alaynah’s, as she cheerfully belted her favorite mix of Bollywood songs and nursery rhymes, even as I pushed the swing higher. In five minutes I knew a bit about Kaku’s life – he had never been to school, did not know any counting or alphabets, knew no songs, never watched TV and hung around streets doing nothing the whole day. His friends, he told me, teased him by calling him daku (dacoit).
I asked Kaku why he was not playing, like the other kids and sitting quietly on the swing. He told me he had not eaten anything the whole day, so his tummy was hurting. I asked him to go home and eat. He said he did not want to go home as he was scared his father would beat him as he was a drunkard. I asked Kaku what he would like to eat. “Maggie,’’ (noodles) was his quick reply. I gave him some money to buy Maggie, though I have no idea whether he did.
Later, I could not help but think of the gang rape in Delhi and Mumbai. In both horrific crimes, the perpetrators were illiterate boys, minors and young men, petty thieves, criminals, subsisting on the fringes of urban existence, doing odd jobs, surviving, stealing, looting, eve teasing and eventually raping.
In some years Kaku will be a teenager, stronger, infused with hormonal changes that make boys naturally aggressive. He will probably stand up to his father, make friends with many similarly placed boys in the neighborhood and maybe form a gang. They will be acutely aware of the wealth around them, the cars, gadgets and soon the women, with no means, skill, language, education, money, to access or be acknowledged by any of them.
Can Kaku be a normal adult given such a brutal childhood? I don’t think so. Who should we blame if Kaku does not conform or turns into a real daku — us, his parents, government or society? Not him, for sure.
(Formerly with the Times of India in New Delhi, Siddharth Srivastava is based at Gurgaon. He also blogs as Mocking Indian)