ANDHRA PRADESH

New charter of life for band of runaway boys

HYDERABAD May 22. When little Yuvaraju slipped into a brand new pair of jeans, a smile shone on his face. The happiness spread to the boys behind, standing in a row in towels and freshly scrubbed bodies. Like dark clouds that empty themselves in a downpour and commence their journey white and afresh, the boys looked fresh.

The band of brothers, who had made Secunderabad railway station their home, discovered a new self in themselves at a street kids' retreat in Keesara village, 30 km from here. The born survivors who roughed it out on the mean streets, growing old even before entering their teens, were smiling shyly at themselves.

The reason? No divine intervention lifting them out of their misery, but a decent haircut, a fresh bath with a scented soap and shampoo, and brand new clothes brought back to life the boys in them. Little princes, were they? ``Give me anything and I will wear it. They all look good on me,'' Yuvaraju, the youngest of the runaways, smiles looking at the stack of clothes. A prince only by name, the boy, who left home in Adoni unable to bear his uncle's torture, is the master of his destiny. And he is barely 10.

The boys live in the railway station doing odd jobs - scrubbing the train floor, polishing shoes and even re-filling used mineral water bottles from air-conditioned coaches and selling them. Many of them resort to the easier way-out, begging. ``These children live in the most miserable and unhygienic conditions without basic necessities. Our effort is to provide simple things, some fun and leisure and encourage them to live their lives with a new perspective,'' says Vivian Issac, manager, Operation Blessing India, a voluntary body, that works with street children.

Says Venkatesh, a physically impaired boy, from Modhipur village of the drought-hit Mahabubnagar district who ran away from home and begs in trains for a living, "if I have money I use the paid toilet at the railway station. Otherwise, we all head to the sidings where there is water.''

If bath is a luxury, haircut is an indulgence. "I had my haircut at Ballarsha in Maharashtra and I paid Rs. 10 for that,'' the wide-eyed boy says. His friend, Nagu, who lugs his boot polish kit in trains, has a more divine destination. "Whenever I need a haircut I go to Tirupati. I get a tonsure done to fulfil my vows,'' he says. The boys travel free of cost and the world is at their feet.

Hundreds of Nagus and Yuvarajus make a living on the streets of the twin cities. "Though hesitant, when someone enquires about them, they cannot hold back. They pour out all their emotions,'' says J.J. Prasad, a researcher with CBN International India.

And what emotional bonding the band of brothers share. Yuvaraju complains that Venkatesh is a spendthrift. "He earns little, but spends more.'' The latter chides him mockingly, "who buys you the ice-creams and soft drinks. He has five at a stretch.'' The young boy's injury to the forearm is a matter of concern for all of them. "His uncle hit him with an iron rod. He is still a kid. How can we leave him like that? We all contribute from our earnings and buy medicines for him. But, it is not healing properly. We took him to Gandhi hospital too,'' the worried band of boys say.

What affinity is this?

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