Ashish wakes up every day to the din of locals from the slum nearby hustling to the water tanker. It comes everyday at 5 a.m. and people line up to get their daily supply of clean water. Ashish knows most of these people lining up. Hazari chacha is always one of the first in line. He owns one of the two tea-stall nearby. He has a very important job – giving tea to everyone else before they go to their jobs. So, he has to get his water early and rush to open his shop. On his way to the stall, he always gives Ashish and his sister two biscuits in the first half of the month, however it’s not always the case towards the end of the month. Chacha has three kids to feed and towards the end of the month, the ration from the Government runs out.
Ashish is ten years old and his sister Deepti, is three years older than him. He has no clue about the age of his parents. His father is always gone by the time he wakes up. He pulls luggage in a nearby station and has to go early to find the babus arriving for office from other cities or villages. Ashish has never been to the station. His mother forbade him, and especially his sister to ever wander too far. She says children who disobey and wander off alone, get eaten by large ghosts that roam the streets after dark. He remembers of his friends Chitra had a knack for wandering off to other neighbourhoods. His mother always said she would grow up to become an actress and her photo would be there on the large poster above their blankets on the street. Last year, she strolled off like she always would, but she never came back. His mother went looking with the other neighbours, but they couldn’t find her.
Since then, whatever interest Ashish had to go look at other places had disappeared. He only begs in the road nearby, occasionally going to the slum in the next neighbourhood when his mother is with them. He has some friends there and sometimes he goes there to play when his mother is asleep. But, his sister cannot go there because she’s still a kid. In the evening on Sundays, the local temple hands out khichdi. Some days, his mother makes some rotis, when his father manages to bring back some money after drinking. However, most days they get some bread from chacha’s stall, or some uncle buys them a pack of biscuits instead of giving them money. Water is the easiest to get. There’s always a tap running in the next lane, so they never really go hungry.
It’s still summer, so the sleep at night is quite comfortable. It gets more difficult in winter, but, that’s still far away. By then, hopefully they can gather some discarded blankets. Ashish has never had any serious illnesses, but his sister falls ill quite often. It is an added problem since, medicine can be quite costly. But, since neither of his parents fall ill too often, they have it much easier than the other families.
Two rickshaw-pullers live in a room opposite to their street. Most days he falls asleep listening to some song they play on their radio. They are from a place you can only visit by train. They are always joking with Ashish and his other friends, but his mother always scolds him when he talks to them, so he’s learnt to maintain his distance, at least when his mother is around. One day when he gets stronger, he also dreams of buying a rickshaw of his own. Then he would have enough money to rent his own room because, unlike his father, he would not throw away all his money on booze.