Street children share their life stories and script imaginary ones.

What constitutes the mental landscape of a boy who is forced to make the city streets his home? A fascinating glimpse into the hearts and minds of such children was provided by a creative writing workshop organised by Nadira Chaturvedi with some former street boys who are in our care.

Many boys wrote about their own lives, and some stories and fantasies. There is sadness, even anger in some testimonies, in which children recall how profoundly they were let down by those into whose care they were born. Ajay recalls his parents fighting all day long, and his painful discovery that both were addicted to drugs. “I said to my parents please do not take drugs. I pleaded. They never listened. They never stopped.” He adds: “I lived with my parents who took drugs, stole, fought and eventually tried to stop me from studying. I could take it no more.” In despair, first his brother and then he ran away from home, after stealing some money from his parents.

He ran away from his village in Orissa to Delhi, and took a job at a tea stall in the railway station, washing utensils and serving tea. He slept at night outside the shop. The shop owner had promised him a monthly wage of Rs.1,500 for this work, but when at the end of the month he refused to pay him, Ajay stole some utensils from him and ran away again. This is how he ended up sleeping on the streets, where other street children befriended him and taught him to survive. Today, in our care, he has reached high school. “I love studying,” he writes, “and want to be a computer engineer.”

Babu Khan describes his childhood — picking rags from trash. “I wondered why I had to do this work,” he writes, “but I also understood that if I did not work, how would I eat?” Later, after he came into our care, he writes that he loved to study. But, one day, got into a violent fight with another boy in the home, and ran away from the home, finding his way eventually to Kashmir. “Once again I was picking trash, wearing dirty clothes.” He often had no food, sometimes not even footwear. “And in Kashmir, night and day bullets would fly.” He returned to our care in Delhi, apologised for fighting and running away, and resumed his studies. “I told other children what I had been through, and advised them — read, write and make your life.”

For Shahrukh, the poverty of his family was complicated further by his polio. The story he writes is about his longing to dance, like other boys in the home. It seemed an impossible dream until one day he decided to use his crutch as his left leg while dancing. “Hours of practice, dozens of bruises from falling on the cemented floor, and the constant taunting of children for something I had no choice in, made me more determined.” He was rewarded when he danced before all his classmates on Independence Day.

The children have also crafted some lovely fictional stories. Navaid’s story “Munni’s Dream” is about a village family in Karnataka, in which the elder sister Munni is given the duty every day to take her younger brother to school, but her parents refuse to allow her to study. Munni dreams of becoming a doctor, but her mother insists that instead she should work and collect money for her dowry. Eventually Munni has her way, studies hard and becomes a doctor in the city. She hears that her mother in the village has fallen gravely ill, and she rushes to her bedside. It is Munni who eventually cures her, and her mother realises her mistake. Munni returns to her village, opens a free hospital, and also a school for the poor children in the village. She names the school after her parents.

But my favourite story is “Forest Officer” by Faiz. It describes a young boy called Faiz, whose parents take him for a picnic to a jungle. There he finds that hunters are mercilessly killing the wild animals. It pains him a lot, and one day he runs away from home to the forest, where he first pleads with the hunters to spare the animals. When they refuse to listen to him, he develops a plan with the animals. They dig a deep pit, and cover it with grass. The hunters come into the forest, and all fall into the pit. Faiz gets them arrested and they are sent to jail. The animals are now safe. When Faiz grows up, he becomes a Forest Officer. He builds a net around the forest, and the animals are completely protected. Faiz’s parents are proud of him, and the animals live happily with Forest Officer Faiz.

These stories are compiled into a volume called Ummeed: Hope writings of former street children (available with amanbiradari.delhi@gmail.com).

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