While teenagers are busy enjoying recreational activity camps during their summer vacations, two friends Karan and Harish are struggling to earn their bread and butter with their shoe-polish tools.
On the busy streets of Connaught Place in the national Capital, when people are rushing to offices, 16-year-old Karan and 15-year-old Harish with few of their younger friends are found sitting in front of those offices, chewing tobacco and polishing shoes to earn their living.
Karan was brought to the city from his hometown, Ajmer by his father, who was in the same profession of polishing shoes. Karan lost his father at a tender age and had to take up the responsibility to support his family with the only skill he had acquired from his father. On the other hand, Harish left his home and parents back in Ajmer and came to this big city in search of a better life for himself and his unemployed parents. Much like Karan, Harish too inherited the art of shoe polishing as a legacy from his father.
Poverty and family pressure on these kids has not been able to kill their big dreams and aspirations. “Bohot bada aadmi banna chahta hoon, jaise yahan aate hai na joota polish karane, waisa (I want to become very successful like the ones who come here to get their shoes polished),” exclaimed a very excited Karan with a bright smile and beaming eyes. All these kids never had enough time to go to school but now study under the guidance of their beloved Firdos Madam. Karan and Harish both study in third standard and are very fond of Mathematics.
Firdos Khan, who grew up in the city, is the daughter of a bus driver. “A school has so many resources. If you can go to school, go, otherwise I will teach you,” said Khan in an interview with a news agency. Firdos Khan had earlier worked with different NGOs on which she further added, “I noticed that NGOs lack accountability and transparency.” Khan’s expenses for books and stationary for her students are borne by her partner in the initiative, Shekhar Jain. “We are concerned about teaching them to read and write at least one language. We love kids and this is the most interesting thing we can do,” said Jain.
Both Karan and Harish start their day with Khan’s classes from 7 to 10 in the morning and spend the rest of their day polishing shoes till 6 in the evening. Despite the ugly side of life they have seen, the kids in them comes out in evening when we see them playing, running and catching each other.
“Yeh police wale bohot pareshaan karte hain (These cops are a real trouble),” said Harish as he picked up his brushes, polish and other tools and ran away with his friends on seeing a policeman approach them, only to comeback on the same spot within minutes of their exit.
“Din ka 800 – 900 kama lete hain. (We earn about Rs. 800 – 900 a day),” said Harish. Their clients are mostly people working in big offices of Connaught Place and Barakhamba Road. While most of their clients are soft spoken, some are very rude at times but they have learned to deal with it said the kids.
“I have been seeing them for years now, their parents send them to earn while they themselves sit at home and enjoy with their kid’s hard earned money,” informed a nearby teashop owner. “This has been passed to them from generations,” he concluded.
Even after facing such troubles in all spheres of life, the kids never forget to greet their clients with a smile.