This is my guide, Iqbal. He was a street kid who once roamed the dusty streets of India. This is the story of how he became a street kid. This is his story.
Iqbal was born in a poor labour-class family. He was barely five when his parents separated or divorced, he doesn’t know which. He had an older brother, whom his mother took with her when she left. Iqbal never knew why his mother left him behind with his father.
Even as a boy, Iqbal was expected to work – picking up scraps, polishing shoes, whatever he could do. But at five years old, he was not very good at anything and hardly earn any money.
One day, his father took him to a train station. It was busy and crowded.
His father brought him to a central spot at the train platform and told him to wait for him there. After standing around for an hour, Iqbal’s five-year-feet got tired. So, he squatted down on that very spot his father had left him and continued his wait. Many hours later, he doesn’t know how long, he hadn’t learned how to read the time yet, he was hungry and really needed to go to the bathroom. But he was afraid he might missed his father when he returns for him. So, he remained rooted to the spot and continued to wait.
As the day grew darker, he remembers wondering why his father was taking so long. A lady and man approached and told him that they were his aunt and uncle. They said that his father was not coming back and he was to go with them.
Despite Iqbal’s disbelief and mounting horror that his father would abandon him at the train station, he was reluctant to go with the “aunt” and “uncle”. But he was small-build and no match for the two adults.
From A Child To A Slave
When he was brought to the “aunt” and “uncle’s” home, he became their slave. He had to do everything – washing, cleaning, cooking and other unmentionables. The “aunt” and “uncle” were not nice to him. If he disobeyed, they beat him and put chilli powder in his eyes. He was allowed one meal a day. He was too young then to understand about abuse or have the knowledge to run away.
Iqbal tolerated all the abuse as best as he could. When he was nine, Iqbal found an opportunity and ran away. Living on the streets was better than the abuse he suffered under “aunt” and “uncle”. He was free.
The Street Kid
For the next few years, he learnt to survive on the streets. Like all the street kids, he learnt quickly to adapt to the street culture and environment. He made friends and they looked out for each other. He learnt where there was food to be found, and how to make money.
Every day, he would go to the garbage sites to look for anything that can be recycled. He would spend the better part of the day doing that. Then, he would sell his “wares” to the recycling company, learning to haggle his way through. They don’t pay much, but it was enough for a game or two at the video arcade – which consists of only two video games machines.
Occasionally, he and his friends would sneak into the movie theatres to watch Hindi movies and dream their Bollywood dreams. Sometimes, they would splurge on glue and sniff it till they are “high”. It was the only way to forget the pain of being abandoned, abuse, unwanted and unloved by a very big world.
One day, by chance, he found himself at the doorsteps of Salaam Balaak Trust (SBT). Out of curiosity, he walked in to seek food and shelter. Iqbal was 11-years-old the day he walked through those doors. Salaam Balaak Trust changed his life. It taught him to read, and educated him on options, better options than sleeping on the streets. It gave him a home and family members who care about him.
Today, at 16 years old, Iqbal works as a guide for The Salaam Balaak Trust City Walk and openly shares his own story as a street kid with the visitors to help them understand. He still roams the streets sometimes to counsel the street kids and tries to bring some of them “home”. Only the willing ones come.
Iqbal said he is lucky. Many kids came through SBT’s doors, only to leave again, never to return.
He has a bright and exciting future to look forward to. Iqbal aspires to be an engineer. His grades has been good and he has been accepted into a university in America on scholarship. SBT has helped him raised enough money for his air fare to America. Iqbal is one of SBT’s success stories. But he doesn’t forget where he came from and promises to return to support SBT’s cause.
I asked him if he remembers which village or city he was from. He gave me a whimsical smile and said he does not remember. He has boarded too many trains and roam too many streets to remember where his home village is. But it doesn’t matter, he said smiling broadly, because he has found his home.
Read more about our travels in India:
- Travelling With Kids: Mumbai
- Travelling With Kids: Pune
- Travelling With Kids: Delhi
- Wonders Of the World: The Taj Mahal
- Learning To Serve In India
- Lost Kids Of India
- Salaam Baalak Trust – Walk In The Shoes Of The Street Kids
- Lost In The Streets Of India
Till our next post, love yourself, love one another.