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Lost Spring - Summary




Anees Jung (1964) was born in Rourkela and spent her childhood and adolescence in Hyderabad. She received her education in Hyderabad and in the United States of America. Her parents were both writers. Anees Jung began her career as a writer in India. She has been an editor and columnist for major newspapers in India and abroad, and has authored several books. The following is an excerpt from her book titled Lost Spring, Stories of Stolen Childhood. Here she analyses the grinding poverty and traditions which condemn these children to a life of exploitation.
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This story starts with the writer talking to a poor boy who used to rummage through garbage hunting for anything usable. The poor boy is one of the Bangladeshi immigrants who were displaced from their homes due to floods and storms.
The writer asked the boy, Saheb, why he did that work and did not go to school. To that, the boy replied that they did not have a school in their neighbourhood and he did not know of any other work that he could do. The writer jokes with him if he would go to the school if the writer built one in their neighbourhood and Saheb said yes to that.
After a few months, the writer came to know that the boy’s complete name was ‘Saheb-e-Alam’, which ironically translates into ‘Lord of the Universe’. However, the boy did not know the meaning. During that time, the writer came to recognise every member of Saheb’s group. All of them were poor kids and did not even have small and basic things like chappals, shoes, and proper clothes. The writer felt sorry for the perpetual state of poverty in which so many Indians live.
When the writer thinks about the chappals and shoes, a story comes to her mind that she had once heard from someone. In that story, a young boy used to go to school past the temple where his father was a priest and would stop at the temple every day to pray for shoes and when he got them, he prayed that he might never lose them. A few years later, the writer had visited his town and found that the son of the new priest of that temple had proper shoes and uniform. In contrast, the ragpicker boys did not have even that basic necessity in their life and they had to go barefoot.
After knowing them for some more time, she came to know that they lived in Seemapuri. She, then, provides her view of that place. She says that it is a place on the periphery of Delhi and is full of Bangladeshi immigrants who moved to India in 1971 after the Indo-Pak war. The place is a slum with structures of mud with roofs of tin and tarpaulin and with more than 10000 ragpickers living there without any sewage, drainage, or running water facilities. They live without permits and authorization but as they have lived there for more than thirty years, they have ration cards that allows them to buy foodgrains at low cost. Food is the most important thing for them and the children help out their families by acting as ragpickers due to which garbage acts as a goldmine for them. Saheb seems excited to her while talking about the things they find in garbage.
One day, she finds Saheb standing by the gate of the neighbourhood club watching some men playing tennis as he liked the game even though he would never be able to play it. She brings out the difference in circumstances by talking about the tennis shoes worn by Saheb that had a hole in one of them and were picked by him when discarded by some rich boy. 
She finds that Saheb had started working in a tea – stall and, ironically, had lost the carefree look he used to have when he was just a ragpicker looking for things in garbage as he was no longer able to work as per his own wishes.

“I want to drive a car”
In the second part of the story, the writer talks to a boy Mukesh who wants to be a motor mechanic and drive a car one day though he knows nothing about cars and owning one is nothing but a distant dream. He is from Firozabad, a small town famous for bangles with most families engaged in making bangles for generations. Mukesh is amongst more than 20000 children who work in those small factories while sitting in dingy rooms without proper air and light and working with glass furnaces that have high temperatures. Nobody knows or cares about the fact that it is illegal to make children work in such places.
Mukesh takes the writer to his house that is located in an overcrowded slum area choked with garbage and that had houses with crumbling walls and wobbly doors. His house was one such half-built shack with a firewood stove in one part where his elder brother’s wife was cooking. Mukesh’s father was a frail-looking man and despite working as a tailor and bangle-maker for years, had not been able to earn enough to have a good house or send his sons to school except teaching them how to make bangles. Even his father had gone blind due to the dust from bangle-making in the town that knows about nothing but bangles that could be seen everywhere. All the huts had little boys and girls helping their parents make bangles making their eyesight weaker by the day.
What is ironic for her was the fact that the young girls probably did not even know about the auspiciousness of those bangles that they worked on. And, then, there were old women who had spent their lives doing the work on bangles and yet, had not been able to have a full meal even once in their life. Having a roof over their head is their biggest achievement in life.
When the writer came to know about the middlemen who used to exploit them, she suggested getting into a cooperative unit but did not find the people interested in it as they were afraid of victimisation by police if they did that. She saw two distinct worlds there – “one of the family, caught in a web of poverty, burdened by the stigma of caste in which they are born; the other a vicious circle of the sahukars, the middlemen, the policemen, the keepers of law, the bureaucrats and the politicians”.
The conditions have extinguished all the dreams of the children and only Mukesh came out as one to dare to do something different by aspiring to be a motor mechanic. But even his dreams have a limit as he says ‘No’ when the writer asks if he would like to fly a plane.

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