I was 13 when they came and shut down the carpet factory my father and his brother had built, just outside the basti. Twelve people were working there. They said, no children allowed. I and my two cousins were the only children, my cousins were 12 and 16. One other boy, to make tea and clean the place. I don’t know his age. The children should go to school, they said.
But I didn’t want to. I knew reading, writing and numbers. I wanted to learn weaving from my father. I wanted to use my artistry and make new patterns, bring more income for our family. But they shut down the factory.
Who decides what children like me need?
Now I am stuck in this shanty they call a school. No teacher ever comes here. Some other people come, give us free food and leave. I don’t want free food, I want to earn my food, also earn some more to help my father. If only I could learn weaving from my father, who learned it from his father. But they shut down the factory.
One day a lady from that big school in the rich colony came to my school-shanty and saw me drawing a pattern. You are good, you should practice more, she said. And gave me a sketchbook and a set of coloured pencils. I took them home. I drew some patterns, used different colours.
The nice lady came back after two weeks. I showed her the sketchbook. She was very happy and told everyone in the class to clap for me. I didn’t understand. She told me that some pages from my sketchbook will be put up on a wall in the mall in the rich colony so people there can also see my drawings.
But I will not be able to see them, I thought. I didn’t tell her that I never go to that mall. Nor do my friends from the basti. She took my sketchbook.
I didn’t want to see my drawings on that wall in the mall. What will that get me?
I wanted to see those patterns on the carpets. Carpets that I will never weave now, because they came and shut down my father’s factory.
“Help the poor while the poor are with thee;
but study also and strive that there may be no poor for thy assistance.”
– Sri Aurobindo, Thoughts and Aphorisms