Wednesday, 6 June 2012


In the scheme of everyday things, perhaps, it is not difficult to miss the little bright spots of happiness that we might encounter in the city’s nooks and corners, but there’s one spot that is hard to miss. And that spot is occupied by Md Nasim, our quintessential weight machinewala. He is ever-so-ready to greet you with a big warm grin and a tinkle of his bell.
The pavement right in front of the corporation building in New Market has been Nasim’s home since the past one and a half years. “I walked into this city in my early teens. I don’t remember the name of the person who brought me here. He promised me a job in the city and soon I found work as a helper in a hotel,” Nasim says while handing over the change to his customer.  
Nasim’s trade is dwindling and he is one among the only few left in the city. With the advent of automated electronic weight machines in most malls, pharmacies and metro stations, there are few takers left for Nasim’s antiquated weight machine. Most people feel that these weight machines would not give an accurate number.
But the grim situation will not deter Nasim from doing what he does. Explaining his decision to join this trade, Nasim says through his gutkha-stained teeth, “I had an accident a few years ago and had to undergo a surgery on my hip bone. I have not been able to walk comfortably since. So I quit my job at the hotel. Who would have a limping man for such a job?”
“I sit here from 8.30 in the morning till afternoon, and then I shift to Roxy cinema in the evening since I get more customers there.”  When asked about his earnings, he said, “I earn upto Rs 50-60 a day and get around twenty-five to thirty customers.  That’s more than enough to afford two square meals a day.”
Moving through life with a swagger, Nasim says, “I don’t think people will stop coming to me and if such a day ever comes, I’ll move onto other job.” “In this city there’s no dearth of ways to earn money. I don’t have to pay any room rent. The person who has allowed me to sleep at his place at night is kind-hearted, he hasn’t charged me anything all these years.”
“This city is more my home than my village Makhdumpur in Jehanabad, Bihar. I know the streets of this place better than the streets of my native place,” says a chirpy Nasim.  Sarkar babu, as Nasim likes to call one of his regular customers, is an employee of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Here’s what he has to say about Nasim. “This profession will never vanish but yes, they may go down in numbers. Not everybody will go to the metro or the malls to check their weight.”  
Not very far away, sits Md Rafi with his weight machine, whose optimism has been seared, only a little though, by the intense heat of the day. “Who likes to sit on the footpath all day in this sweltering heat? We do it to feed ourselves,” complains Rafi.  “I sit here all day, beginning from 8 in the morning till 10 at night. All I earn is just Rs 60-70, which is just about enough for me. I don’t need to send money to my family since my sons are earning,” he adds.  
Nasim seems to take life in his stride and is not concerned with the hardships. “Aadat ban gayi (it has become a habit now). While there are lots of ways to earn here, there are hardly any jobs in Bihar. People shall never stop coming to us. There are still many who believe in the old way of life. Hence, I will continue to be in this profession as long as my health persists.”
True, old habits die hard but how long these men with their little, round weight machines will continue to eke out a living is a big question mark.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012


“I aspire to become a singer. I simply love singing Tagore songs,” was the prompt reply of Kishore Lodh and he soon scores a Tagore song with his harmonium. “Ask him to sing any song and he shall sing it with great poise, “says his mentor Mr. Bikram Sinha very proudly hugging his primary school kid who has been studying in this school since the last sixteen years. “ He has been singing since he was a kid and in the last couple of years he has catered pretty good performances and conquered hearts . He has sung at the Udit Narayan musical concert in 2008, in 2010 he had another performance at a musical concert at the Sunderbans and since then it has been a never ending affair,” chirps his mother. One can clearly see the twinkle and the shine of pride on her face. Kishore, quite unknown of the happenings around him keeps on singing his favorite songs. He is currently in his primary school at the Haripada Biswas Vidyalaya. Kishore is aged 26.

Kishore Lodh sings a Tagore song.

    Located at New Barrackpore,the northern fringes of Kolkata, Haripada Biswas Vidyalya appears as any other school unless one mingles closely with the children studying over here. Founded by Late Shri. KanaiLal Dutta, in the January of 1997 on the eve of Vivekananda Jayanti, this school has been specially up for the mentally retarded and the physically challenged children. The school has been running since then, lending a helping hand to the children such that they could lead better lives and moulding them in the perfect way to aptly adapt to the society.
“From 3 students to 77 students, the long journey has been quite learning and enriching experience,” says Ms.Madhumala Basu, Vice President of the school committee as well the daughter of Late Shri. KanaiLal Dutta. Penning down the new applicants for the new academic session, she continues on saying, “Initially, it was pretty difficult. My father had a vision and he went beyond his ways to achieve it. We had to almost drag these children to school whose parents were not at all prepared to send their wards to the school for the specially abled. For it was not easy on their part to accept the bitter fact that their wards had some lagging senses in them which needs special care and attention. There were even some were the parents are themselves mentally retarded, so there’s no question of them being concerned for their wards for they did not have that sense to be concerned.” On being asked how are they working towards fulfilling the dream of her father, comes the prompt reply a major part has been achieved that they had desired to yet they need to walk more in the upcoming years.

   Shunning the initial resistations from the society, pleading teachers to join with a meagre salary of just thirty bucks a month, counseling the bereaved parents of the mentally and physically challenged children and running a full on school in a not so developed area has been worth an experience, says Mr. Arun Kumar Sikdar, Secretary of Haripada Biswas Vidyalaya,who also happens to be one of those who have been associated with the school since its very foundation.
Scrambling through classrooms, one gets a view of teachers and students interacting among themselves. Unless you observe them precisely, you would not even have the faintest idea that these children have a lagging sense that has been lost in their childhood.
        Ms.Kanika Pathak, teacher-in-recharge says she’s quite happy and content being in this school. Teaching object identification to her she says, “Since the times my children came walking to this school when they found it difficult to even remember their names and today they can easily identify objects around them, they play with their teachers, they can draw pictures and every time an outsider walks into the class, they are there to welcome you with folded hands.” It instantly gives us the feeling that they are no different and even they love to chatter with every hawker who happens to pass by the window or flash a billion dollar smile when their cheeks are cuddled.

 It’s not only the school or the teachers but also the parents who are continuously trying to get that silver lining of the clouded lives of their wards. Such is the dedication, such is the determination to help their children beautiful and successful life, without being dependant on others, that they have sacrificed all other pleasures of their own lives. Many a parents could be seen waiting in the temple premises of the school all day long who accompany their wards everyday to the school, cooperating with the teachers, motivating the innocent kids and applauding for every small effort of theirs. But, there are a few parents who even don’t know what their wards are suffering of or who cannot even afford to pay the travelling wages for their children to school, still the school is determined not to let it affect the lives of these innocent children.
All the time, the teachers, the therapists, the parents are always striving hard to pin down their dream of lending a meaningful life to their children, making them realize that being bereft of one of their senses, they are no different. Dreaming, inspiring, motivating and making their lives colorful and charming is their real concern.
For the society may shun them, friends and families may isolate them yet they are fighting against all odds reliving the lost innocence. Their quest continues to get the touch of that silver lining in their clouded lives. For once Helen Keller said “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it” and so are they walking on these words on the verge of quenching their thirst of better lives with loads of smiles.