Tubeless tyres are a great discovery; a marvel of sorts. They claim you can run for fifty odd kilometres even after the tyre is punctured! I had other reasons to enjoy the boon of the tubeless tyre. A month back air pressure in one of the tyre of my sedan went low. On my way to work I stopped at the local puncture shop to get it re-inflated. I live in NOIDA, the eastern suburb of Delhi, across the quite flowing Yamuna. The suburban township is nudged in a corner of Delhi and on the map appears to be a small sleeping animal, perpetually hibernating from the noise and lights of the mad city.
The shop owner was a local, a hefty, loud man. His errands boy was ten or may be twelve years old, a couple of years older to my son. The little boy looked sad as he sat on his haunches to re-inflate the front (driver side) tyre of my car. Sitting in the air conditioned sedan, I watched as he slowly adjusted the nozzle of the air pump on to the tyre. The morning sunrays filtered through the leaves of the nearby neem tree to dance on his dirty cheeks as if teasing him. Grease and soot formed a black line around all the nails of his fingers and toes like a wooden frame enveloping a precious painting. The sudden hissing sound of the rushing air had little effect on his dull demeanour. His tiny fingers barely held on to the pump nozzle as the back flowing air created turbulence, making the nozzle move out violently. Once done, he applied a little bubble of saliva and the tyre valve was cleared of any leaks. He raised himself up and came up to my window which I had lowered now. Our eyes met for the first time. There was a sadness in his eyes which was beyond words. He had a round face with deep black eyes. His long eye lashes were curved at perfect angles. His hair had specks of brown, a sign of poor nourishment.
“Ho gaya”, (it’s done) he said gloomily. His brittle voice revealing the childish tone.
I paid some change and proceeded. In a couple of days I felt that the same tyre had deflated again. I re-visited the same shop, same time and the same sad figure re-inflated the tyre. My subsequent visits over a week revealed that he was Ashish from Bulandshehar, a neighbouring town. His father, who was a landless labrourer had died a year back and the family children were prematurely put to work for a sustained livelihood. There were two elder sisters and a younger brother besides Ashish. Having struck a rapport with the little boy, I was tempted not to get the suspected puncture of the tyre repaired. The repair would have disturbed my regular routine of meeting Ashish. And the tubeless tyre meant that I could carry on for some more time!
Although I could very well understand his circumstances, the middle class ‘baggage’ of ‘doing good’ and standing up for a ‘social’ cause prompted me one day to question the hefty man.
“Don’t you think he is too young to work? Shouldn’t he be studying?” I reluctantly framed my question, knowing how rude and uncouth the jats of NOIDA can be.
“Arey saab, bachon ki aatma maar do to een ko burra nahi lagta kaam karna. Ees ki bhee samjho aatma mar chuki hai, ab ees ki training lagbhag poori hai!” (Sir, if we can kill the soul of a child they don’t feel bad while working. His soul is in the process of being killed; soon his training will be complete) he answered, and gave out a throaty laughter.
I was left speechless as Ashish re-inflated the tyre once again, got up from his haunches and said, “ho gaya” (it’s done).
Prof. Shah Alam Khan (AIIMS, New Delhi)