Posted by: Prem Piyush | November 30, 2004

Boot Polish @ 1.00 Rs.

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……..



  1. Hi,

    I have read this topic on your blog, it’s very old but after reading your post I thought of putting my views here. Anyway, at first the tag of so called “gentleman” is really indigestable here for me. So wat i suggest here, better use some other word instead of ‘gentleman’. Do you think he was helpful to him in reality? You people did not help him with 1rs or watever, but I feel you are just encouraging the child labours in our society. Ab yeh mat kahna ki uske roji roti ka sawal tha. Plz plz plz..

    We still look our history and feel proud… but why!? Why one should feel proud of it if a bagger roaming on road with empty plate? Why one should feel proud of his/her country, where child labours exist? Does it make sense in our so called well educated society? Nevertheless, I too feel proud of our Country.


  2. Rewa,

    Thanks for completing my post and your concerns on the social blots.

    To repeat the episode, as Sealdah station is my transit point, I was there again after 6 months, the same guy came near to me, when I was at the platform no.10, waiting for Darjeeling Mail.

    I recognized him instantly though he failed to recognise me.This time, I didn’t helped him but wanted to ask about his real conditions. But instead of answering my queries, his priorities seemed different ones and once again he moved away from me…

    For child labour, I do hope, recently imposed strict rules of government against child labour and compulsory primary level education for everyone will help to solve the problem to an extent.

  3. Nice question is raised here and i wish to talk a little about the question (sorry for ignoring the story, i know the story itself wanted to raise the issue :-))
    The question first came in my mind when I read the story “CHHOTA JADUGAR”. The poor guy in the story was working to save his mother while his father was in jail (during movement against britishers). That was a touching story. Our country is free now but there are several children like chhota jadugar just working for basic needs of their families. You and your friend talked about the boot polish boy but there are many other categories; there is a large no. boys commonly named as chhotu, working at tea shops at roads and at dhabas, there are some other chhotus and small girls working in houses, there are small girls and boys with plastic bags collecting garbage, there are beggars…………….. The list goes on.
    At the same time, when I read the story Chhota Jadugar, I read something else. It was about “charwaha vidyalaya scheme” of newly elected CM of Bihar Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav. That time I thought it a useless idea (I was too young to understand things). But whenever I saw any other chhota jadugar I just thought about things. Now I feel the idea of “charwaha vidyalaya” is good one. On one hand it may help in giving better quality education to those small young workers(Govt may provide better quality education too, Navodayans know it well) on the other hand the can work and earn for their needs.
    If you have some idea about the forgotten idea, lets discuss. I am serious about making a plan related with it.

  4. @ Roushan,
    I am really proud of our JNVians, who mostly come from the roots of Indian society and create intellectual space around.

    There is very good sweet shop in our town, and since my childhood, I have seen Chota Jadugars doing all the helping jobs there. This time, I could not resist to say the sophisticated looking shopkeeper that,” With such a good customer base, why can’t you avoid employing these child labours.” He smiled back and nodded as if he is going to change !

    Next time, I went there – Chootus were still working there !! I gave him a ‘sweet satire against child labour’ . Hope I shall continue that – until my satyagraha wins.

  5. i am not satisfied with rema coz she is observing in her point of view.its not abot childlabour its abot hunger,its easy to say rozi roti ka sawal hai but the truth is much deeper……………………

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