A gleaming Mercedes pulled up by the kerb; and a man, middle aged and of visible opulence, nonchalantly walked on to treat the cow with the grainy bread roll he had brought along. He then sought blessings and after a few indiscernible mutters to the lady, who sat there selling treats to those who followed such veneration, steered away to his vocation. It was still early in the day; the multitude hurried to board the train to work and street vendors were religiously unfurling and setting up their shops. A beat policeman harshly shooed away a mendicant nagging people for alms. In this bustle a boy of no more than sixteen, small built with curly hair and expressive eyes was clutching a bundle and blended into the scene.
As the sun ascended, the street bustled with a myriad of activities. The hour made not much of a difference to the ingestive requirements of the populace. Late breakfasts, early lunches, brunches, second tea before lunch; none were unusual. Irrespective of what meal it was, freshly squeezed sugarcane juice, spiced-tea and the omnipresent “vada-pav” were the favoured choices. A few, lacking the time to rest their legs, grabbed a bite or drink and scurried along. Under the spreading Pipal in the midst of the concrete jungle, in a shady corner, the “chai-wala” had a thriving business. Men of all walks thronged the shop for a piping hot glass of tea and puffed on their cigarettes.
The hawkers had by now spread their props and canvasses into temporary stores. The ever so nimble structures could be retracted in a jiffy; be it to veil the good s from rain or to dodge the authorities. The touts were loud and managed to lure the odd passerby. In the lottery outlets there seemed to be a tiff between a bunch of people and they freely exchanged expletives; it barely seemed to affect the neighboring watch salesman. A scurrying man crashed in to the pile of used books the vendor had stacked up; he picked himself up and obscurely gestured, supposedly apologizing, ran to leap into the already moving bus. In the midst of this chaos, one could find a minute's peace and calm; a soothing deep breath and sigh.
Drenched in the flurry, the boy was barely noticeable. He stood in a corner, prudently scanning the crowd. With lofty dreams he had run away from his family in a nearby village. He had hitched a ride on the back on an onion truck and once he reached the city he slept on the benches in the railway stations. He quickly ran out of the little money he had brought along. With odd jobs he had managed to survive and bought himself a set of new clothes, shoe brushes and few cans of polish. His yearning for the while was to save enough to set up a small stall dealing in any kind of paraphernalia. He survived on one meal a day and on certain days was lucky enough to feast on the left overs of the empathetic food vendors. Little difference did right or wrong make to him; hunger does veneer one's conscience. His eyes then zeroed in on a man who had just stubbed his cigarette and had started to move. He was well attired and obviously had a well-paying desk job. The boy tagged him along repeating his line “Sir, Shoe Shine! Only two rupees. ” The man couldn't care less; preoccupied and immune to such ruses, he brushed the boy away and stomped away. The boy shrugged his shoulders and withdrew into his cocoon.
Meandering through vendors, scuttling people and the tried coolies stretching their legs, a young man was an evident misfit. His lethargic gait, lazy strides and his inquisitive scour of the saleables gave him away. He had chosen a leather bag and was engrossedly haggling with the salesman. The different dialect of his place certainly did not help. The boy's eyes lit up. If the day were to offer him a chance, this was it. The man finally seemed to settle on a price for the bag; both the man and the vendor seemed to be content that they had better of the other. As the man moved to the next store, the boy ran up to him chanting his line. The man at first was disinterested but the thought that two rupees was barely a minuscule made him pause and engage the boy's services. He bit the bait.
The boy unfurled his bundle to reveal moth-eaten shoe brushes and other necessaries. As the young hands went into work the man couldn't help but be washed over by embarrassment and sympathy, little difference does both make to the poor but in this instance did help the boy's tactic. The boy related a flawless story he had spun. A piece of fabrication which he had gone over and over umpteen times with different listeners. The story recounted about his drunken dad, his abuses and how he along with his two sisters and mother had to run away into the city to seek liberation. He then vented his aged mother worked at a construction site for meager wages. The story had slowly chipped into the dispassionate exterior of the man; he was visibly moved. Once the shoes shone, the man thrust a fifty rupees note into the boys hand; the boy's eyes glistened but decided against it. He uttered that the money would barely get his family through 2 days. He said that all he wished for was a shoe-shine box which cost 300 rupees and once he could afford it, his mother wouldn't have to work anymore and he could support the calorific needs of his sisters and mother. The man subtly wiped the tears rolling down his cheeks; not before the boy had noticed. The man was aghast at the contrasting thoughts; the man wanted a fancy car, a luxurious home and a range of other accessories. Exactly at this moment, the boy started to reel in the fish, he begged the man for the money to but the kit.
The man took a deep breath and considered it. He was too aware of such cons to fold immediately. Pouting his chin, he told the boy that he will accompany the boy to buy the kit and he will pay for it there. The man was self-content that if this were a con, he would see through it. The boy, though he had not anticipated such a response, quickly improvised. He took the man to a shop which he very well knew had been shut for the past month. The boy groaned and then briefed the man that the owner being a devout Muslim had gone to attend the mid-day prayers and will return only after an hour. The man, though not whole heartedly, was convinced. He pulled out three hundred rupee notes and gave it to the boy. He even added an extra fifty rupees. He sternly remarked to the boy that he will return the same evening and expected to seem him in the same place with the shoe-shine kit. The boy clutched the notes and nodding, profusely thanked him. The man patted the boy and walked away.
The seeming altruistic act was but to soothe the man's ego. Content that he had helped a boy and his family to a livelihood, he smugly marched on. A smear of self-content streaked his face. He had walked no further than ten steps another boy clutching a bundle offered to shine his shoes for two rupees. It then struck him, like a hard smack across his face, he had been conned! He immediately spun around to locate the first boy but he was nowhere to be found. The man could do nothing but smile. He shook his head and managed another smile surrendering to the fact that the city had welcomed him with a practical joke.