Inside a narrow lane in Gandhinagar vehicles make several trips to the office of the Bangalore district’s Missing Child Bureau (MCB) and drop children picked up from places such as Majestic bus stop and the Bangalore City Railway Station.
Inside a locked room at the MCB office, the children are playing a carom game. Snatching the striker from a boy, Priya F., the chirpiest of the lot, asserts it is her turn to play.
While some children are eagerly waiting to be reunited with their parents, others are dreading the thought of home. “I am scared as I ran away and went to Raichur 10 days ago. I wanted to get married to my boyfriend, but things did not work out with his family. So we came back to Bangalore and my friend left me at the bus stop and went away. Now I am sure my parents will scold at me,” says Priya, all of 13.
In the corner sits Azarudin Khan (12). “Where did they pick you up from? Where were you going,” the others ask him, almost in chorus. He ignores them.
When this reporter prodded him, he says he worked in a carpentry shop in the city where he earned Rs. 3,000 a month. He was picked up by the MCB staff from the Majestic bus stand.
“I live in Bangalore with my mother. She beats me a lot. My parents don’t live together anymore. I want to go to Mumbai as my father lives there. He will take care of me,” he says.
Soon, the conversation is interrupted as a bucket of hot rice and sambar are brought in.
As all of them pick up the plates, Rangaswamy (15), who ran away from home two months ago in search of a job, says: “Back home, I would fuss, so my mother would feed me. I miss my mother. Now I just want to get back home, but my parents don’t know I am here. My mother cannot travel so far to take me home.”
After lunch, the gang heads to watch television and quarrels erupt over the channel. The fight is resolved by the caretaker who switches on Cartoon Network. There is peace: all seem fine with the caretaker’s choice.
A few minutes later, a middle-aged man walks in and Priya rushes to him. “He is my father,” she announces to the others. Her father, watchman Francis Xavier, refuses to let go of her hand and breaks down, “Why did you run away?” he asks repeatedly.
After a half-hour discussion among the father, child and the counsellor, Priya is ready to head back home. She waves goodbye as the others looked at her enviously.