I should not have spoken to that madam.
When she first said that she would put my picture in the paper I was very happy. My face in the paper, like a leader or a film star. How envious my friends would be! But now after answering all her questions, all my joy has disappeared.
She asked me such silly questions.
Don’t I want to play with my friends?
Ofcourse I do. But mother insists that I stay busy until she gets home from work, otherwise, she says, I will join the riffraff and becomes a no good. I have to go work with my brother. Plus we need the money.
We are a family of zardozi craftsmen. My father, his father, my great grandfather, are all known for their fine gold embroidery. Father used to work for a very famous company. The clothes he embroidered were sent all over the world. Zardozi is hard work. It takes great love and immense concentration. Father used to work for 12 hours daily. Only Sunday was a holiday. Sometimes when the company was having a show, he had to work longer. But then slowly his eyes started going bad. How can he sew all those fine intricate designs if he can’t see properly? So he had to quit. Now he collects all the waste and takes it to the dump yard.
The pay is not enough to feed the family so mother and my brother started working. She works as a maid. Of course my brother does embroidery. He used to sit and watch father. Then father gave him his own betan material (practice on canvas) to practice on. It took him about one year to fully learn. Now he is earning 200 rupees a week.
The journalist madam was not happy when I told her that I dropped out of school five months ago to join my brother. What is the point in learning all that history and geography when I am going to spend all my life in this slum only doing embroidery, I asked her. Sure I like science and math. I am good at math. I know how to add, subtract and multiple. No one can cheat me. That should be enough for my work.
Father is sick, mother is old, and we have to save money to get my sister married. Now I get only 50 rupees a week, out of which I give mother 40 and keep 10. I use that to buy sweets and sometimes a rubber ball to play on Sundays. I will get full pay only after two years.
And then she asked me the strangest of questions. She asked me if I had any dreams and ambitions of my own.
I did not know what to answer. This is my destiny. It is what all the men in my family do. How can I think about doing anything different? Even if I wanted to, who will teach me?
Madam said I could go to school and learn things. But if I don’t go to work how will we eat? How will we buy father’s eye drops? And who will marry my sister without dower money?
I asked her if the boys in her part of town relinquish their responsibilities to weave dreams while their family starves.
She had no answer for me.
In the end she patted my head with pity in her eyes.
I don’t want her pity.
I did not ask her to print my story. Of what use is it to me? I turned 12 this year. I am now a man. This is my fate and I don’t weep over fate. It is what it is.
I should never have spoken to that madam.