Two Leaves and a Bud

Two Leaves and a BudTWO LEAVES AND A BUD

 AVANI office and school is at one end of the town, the southern end.  The main market, the shopping centres and the government offices are near about one another and are situated at its other end. My work often takes me into these sections. Our main stationery supplier, Neta Stores, the printing service provider, Dutta Typing Bureau, its proprietor Saurabh Parulekar and the storied Swami’s snack bar are in one cluster, on Bhavsinghji Road. (By the way that happens to be the name of a bosom friend of Shahu Maharaj, who was a Raja of the princely state of Bhavnagar). I also go on rounds visiting friends, well – wishers and supporters of AVANI. It has become an unconscious habit with me : My eyes keep searching for child labour wherever I go.  When I visit Saurabh’s shop on some business he insists on offering a cup of tea. He orders it from the kiosk on the street’s opposite side.  The routine has continued for years.

Formerly, a boy of ten or eleven would bring the tea in a steaming kettle, pour it in a cup and offer to me with a smiling face. The boy’s name is Akshay. That is how I came to know him. By and by, I knew more about him. The tea stall belonged to another man and Akshay was employed on a daily wage of Rs.20, with one – time food included in the package. His working day started at eight in the morning and lasted up to half past seven in the evening. He had no shelter he could call his own, so, he slept nearby on street pavement. Three years earlier his parents had separated, married again and went their separate ways, leaving Akshay uncared for. His aged maternal grandmother stepped into the breach and offered her hand to him.  But she herself had nothing better than a little cramped place just sufficient to squeeze in her emaciated body. She was too weak to take up any manual work. It fell upon Akshay’s lot to look after her, which is why he had to work whole time and could not think of school.

        My first thought was to take him away, liberate him from this unprospective drudgery. But what will be the granny’s plight, should Akshay stop earning? That was a persistent, vexing question and I had no ready answer for it. After many days of hesitation I made bold to talk with Parvati, the granny about her grandson’s future. I told her that AVANI school points a way out of the logjam. Before deciding one way or another she thought of having a look at the school. On an appointed day she came over and was delighted to see the place, the children and the activists. She gave her permission with an open mind.  Though in the late sixties and very frail, she summoned fresh resolve, girded herself up, became a part time domestic help in two households which gave just enough to keep her body and soul together. Thus she released Akshay from wage slavery, and his way to our school was opened. Akshay is deprived of parental love. It must have hurt him deeply. I know he looks to me as his adopted mother. On my part I do my best to fill up the lacuna in his mind. I take him with my children on holiday jaunts. Through the six years of his stay with us he has become an integral part of my family. Sometimes he deliberately indulges in some pranks that evoke stern dressing down from me, to which his response is of mute satisfaction. Our psychologist friend tells me, that is his way of seeking my attention to himself!

        On the tea – and – snacks trolley Akshay was constantly in the press of people milling around him. Adeptly performing many-sided roles:  He was a quick, supple dish- washer, a live wire refreshment purveyor, displaying an effortless manly acumen, knowing the subtle taste preferences of regular customers, meting out to them the special choices to their satisfaction. His innate alertness and daily encounter with an in-motion kaleidoscope of human character, turned him into a past master in extroversion. Ready-witted, with a pleasant, smiley face, ever ready for exchange of pleasantries and measured courtesies, he for sure was the brainy backbone of the joint.

        In any other case the transition from the wage–earner mode to that of a regular school – going boarder could be something of a leap in the dark grey zone. But that was not so with Alshay. He adapted himself smoothly practically within no time. He came to us hardly with any acquaintance with the letters of the language, or with numbers for doing elementary arithmetical sums. But in the exacting school of life he had got his faculties shaped and sharpened, which stood him in good stead when he attacked the ABC bastions of learning; no doubt ably aided by specialized teaching. Of course, already he was friends with me. That fact must have worked in his favour. He endeared himself with all other boarders, teachers and the management people, thanks to the gift of seasoned liveliness and an innately pleasant temper. His behavior with the children, junior to him in age is warm and affectionate. In fact it is nothing short of exemplary. He would willingly do their washing and look after those on the sick bed. He is always ready to help anyone who asks for it. Interestingly, ‘Akshay’ means, ‘one without attrition’!


To be continued….  Part 1 of 2


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Anuradha Bho graduated from the Tata Institute for Social Work in Mumbai and worked as an apprentice to Arun Chavan at Verala Development Society. After understanding the needs of the area she branched out on her own creating a small organization called AVANI which is a Marathi language acronym for Clothes, Food and Home for the poor children.

Arun Chavan was a professor of English Literature at Kolhapur University when he saw the poverty and destitution that surrounded him. He decided to give up his job and devote his life to working for the poor. He founded the Verala Development Society and has been working for the past 40 years to bring about a socio-economic change in the area.


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