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Discovering the inner world of Delhi’s pavement kids.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Talking the Walk
21-year-old Javed, a former street kid who arrived alone and penniless in the city some fourteen years ago, led us, in excellent English, into the inner life of New Delhi railway station region. Brainchild of a British volunteer, the walk is organized daily by Salaam Baalak Trust, a NGO established by film-maker Mira Nair.
For two hours we were guided into a Dickension world we never knew existed: a secret attic above a railway bookstall, a Contact Point where 'new kids' are brought every morning, and a teacher called 'Mummy'.
Starting from the station, we first walked to the 'Luxury Platform'. Kids sneak here to feast on 'luxuries' like chicken and cutlets, much-coveted leftovers of Shatabdi Express trains. Javed pointed to a popular sleeping space on Platform No. 9 roof – "safe since fat cops can't get through the grills". He recalled a friend who slipped down that slope and died after getting caught in electric wires.
Looking down at the 'bathroom' where water was jetting out from a railway washing line, Javed mused about the weekends: films at Sheila Theater , and getting high on Tipp-ex. "Our life is like stagnant water and sometimes we want ourselves free of pain," he explained. As rag pickers and sweepers, most children earn around Rs 60 daily. Hunted by Railway Police, they give protection money to a juice-walla. "You can't survive in the station without connections and friendships," Javed disclosed.
We then sauntered down into an alley in Pottery Market, popular for its "cheap non-veg food." At the end of a neighboring cul-de-sac, lined with rundown havelis, was a Shelter Home for young children. Our interference was welcomed in a busy classroom. Kids, pencils in their mouths, smiled back at our smiles.
Finally, in another Shelter at Paharganj, where a multi-colored Hrithik Roshan was disbursing dreams on a gigantic wall painting, pimpled teenagers buzzed around in different groups. Being trained to become "responsible members of the society," they would have to leave the Home on turning eighteen. This final destination of their street life was also the endpoint of our tour and we emerged out - humbled.
Duration 2 hours Charges Rs 200 donation is recommended Contact 9810975284 (Javed)