Anita loved reading stories to her seven year old son. She looked forward to those moments of togetherness, when both of them would cuddle inside a blanket after dinner and step into the truly bewitching world of stories. Fairy tales, stories with moral, fables, folk lore and stories from her own childhood would come alive in their cosy little den every night without fail. Nikhil loved stories that taught him some value. He would imagine himself as the protagonist of such stories and feel like a hero, with so many good deeds to his credit. “I will grow up to be an honest, caring and wise man” he told his mother, who would then feel proud of her kid. “My son will grow up with a lot of good values”, she thought to herself with great happiness.
One evening, as usual mother and child prepared themselves for story time. With great curiosity and interest, little Nikhil listened to a story that taught him the important value of compassion. The story became etched in his mind and he decided to be kind and try his best to help people in need. Apart from wanting to make his parents proud, he also wanted to feel good about helping someone in trouble. Anita told him many more stories that fascinated him, but this one was always in the forefront of his memories. It was his favourite story. He badly wanted to experience the joy of caring and sharing. He just did not know where to get started.
On his way back from school one day, he happened to get the coveted window seat. He was only interested in the window and not the seat. He gazed with childish amusement at all the wayside sights- people returning from work, other school children, shopkeepers and hawkers, beggars, high rises, houses, huts, tents, trees and so many other things. He then saw something that touched a raw nerve. A child of his age was begging on the streets, a baby girl ( probably his sister) in his arms. Initially he was surprised at that sight, but deep hurt and many many questions haunted him during the rest of the journey. Why didn’t the boy go to school? Why were they poor unlike him? How could he help the boy? Nikhil decided to do something about it and bring a smile on the boy’s face.
Anita was pleased that her son empathised with the street urchin. She repeated to him, “Good boys care for others and help them in times of trouble. You feel like helping that boy. So you are very good at heart. Daddy and Mummy are very proud of you!” Nikhil felt triumphant. He was going to give his parents and the boy a big surprise. The next day, he did not take the school bus home. He roamed the streets in search of the boy and his sister. He found them and talked to them. He learned that the boy and his sister had been orphaned. They were hungry and had to beg or pick pockets to get enough money for some bread. His heart went out to them. He seemed to know what to do.
Anita was surprised that the boy hadn't come home. She was beginning to get worried and decided to call the school. Her fears melted when she heard the doorbell ring. She rushed to open the door. What she saw left her perplexed and angry. There he was, her little one Nikhil, holding the hand of a dirty, unkempt kid from the street carrying a baby with dirty nails, tattered clothes and a running nose. “We will take care of them Mummy”, he said excitedly.
Her head was spinning. How could they have kids from the street at home? What if they were part of a group of gangsters? What if they carried some disease? What would friends and family say about these new filthy members of the family? This was ridiculous. No one did such things. She lost her temper and screamed, “What’s wrong with you Nikhil? Go inside, take a shower NOW! And for God’s sake ask these creatures to go back.”
Dark clouds of sadness gathered on Nikhil’s face. He was deeply hurt.” I thought you would like the surprise, Mummy” he cried. The other two kids stared without any expression on their faces. They were used to being screamed at, so they left silently, without any fuss. But Nikhil was inconsolable. He threw himself on the bed thinking about his new friends who left suddenly. That was his first encounter with the hypocritical world of adults which was like a black and white chess board.