I met Ratnaraj for the first time in 2017. He was in 5th grade then and I in my first year of social immersion! I had been assigned this Government school in Bangalore as part of my fellowship with Teach for India.
As petrified as I was in facing these 30 kids for the first time in my life, I couldn’t help notice the sharpness as well as the sarcasm that Ratnaraj’s eyes carried. He was perhaps a year or two older than his classmates, explaining the sarcastic looks of his eyes, but then he also possessed a sharpness of a knife! He used to catch on anything that I taught even before I started to summarize the teaching! His speed of maths served as a doze of adrenaline to me, giving me the pride and a satisfaction that I wasn’t a bad teacher after all! I loved correcting his paper before others just to feel less guilty that there is at least someone in the class who is scoring a 2 digit marks regardless of whether it was out of 20,50 or 100!
The other thing he was good at was football! He almost had this zone thing going on whenever a football was in front of him. He could easily get lost in time and space and dribble away to glory. He was an undisputed captain of any make-shift sport team that the school ever formed. Ever smiling Ratnaraj was a great team player too!
I wasn’t too sure but something always told me that Ratnaraj will make it big one day!
But then he vanished!
The next time I met Ratnaraj was under the hanging bridge in KR Puram almost a year later. He was with a bunch of grownup youths who were all smoking weeds while Ratnaraj was selling fruits on the side of the road. He had grown taller than I last saw him and even had a few strands of his hair coloured just like his newly found friends around him! A lot had changed in just that one year! Even his eyes!
I couldn’t read him much except that I knew that Ratnaraj had left his past (and with that a possible future) far behind on the other side of the bridge. He now lived only for present!
Did you ask how?
Ratnaraj lost his father to alcohol and more so to a “guilt of helplessness” that perhaps his father carried leading him to a series of abusive behavior. This eventually led him to loss of job, respect and the supply of money which were the only sources of self esteem he had. In it’s absence , he spiraled further and further into the vicious cycle, never to return again!
Ratnaraj’s mother had never ventured out in her life. She knew only one thing – Washing dishes and cleaning the floors. She was forced to look for job that would eventually keep her away the whole day! Ratnaraj’s sister – Laxmi was too young to even understand their situation. As for Ratnaraj – he was now the man of the house – so what if he was only 12 year old! It was absolutely logical to stop going to school because the school was eating away the most precious commodity that they had….. the time that could be converted to money for existence and survival for that family!
So should it really be a surprise as to why Ratnaraj sells fruits with coloured hair and hangs around with a bunch of weedy eyed young adults?
But then this should surprise you.
As you are reading or hearing this, somewhere within a 2 km radius of wherever you are, there are more Ratnarajs who are colouring their hair right now! There are Asha(s) who will stop studying because even though her parents know that it’s good for their future, they have a “present” to deal with! There are Divya(s) who will loose their father to a falling self-esteem “whirlpool” – not because they had wanted it that way, but only because they somehow slipped in and no one was around to hold them when they needed it most!
If statistics appeal more to you – Roughly we are talking about 80 million families across in our country that land up creating similar stories as this. Of them around 2 million are just around your city!
Do you want to do something about it?
We desperately want to and have some thoughts of rewriting these stories – one story at a time!
Come – Meet us at https://shiftingorbits.org to know how you can help.