While reading a recent piece in Mint on what we call home, I was reminded about what I called my ‘hometown’. Nostalgia took me back to the streets of Srirangam, a place that is 8 hours from Chennai. A place where the fragrance of sambhar and roasted potato used to waft down the corridors of a large house with high ceilings. As I contemplated on the subject, I was drawn more towards what I did during my summer vacations, which were enriched by these visits to my hometown.
I loved these visits of mine and I was equally excited to go back home to school and write an essay on what I did during my vacations. There was a time when I even went to Lakshwadeep and wrote a long essay about the breath-taking beauty of coral reefs and noctiluca that lit up the sea waves as they crashed onto our boat.
Fast-forward to Gogunda, a block in Udaipur district, where I am speaking to one of the community members here. Dalki bai has a continuous smile when she talks to me. Her smile lights up her sun-burnt wrinkled face. The smile doesn’t disappear when she tells me about her son, almost as if it’s a way of life that people here are used to.
Dalki Bai was once in the forests collecting firewood and her husband was out herding their goats. For her son Gautam, it was the last day of school right before vacations. She came home sometime in the evening and instead of seeing her son, she just saw his school bag lying there.
Gautam and a few of his friends had left for Surat to work in a saree-cutting unit. Gautam called them three days later. She wasn’t anxious or anything, word had gone around in the village that a night that some children have left for Gujarat. In this part of the country, during the summer vacations children look for quick work that can help them buy flashy apparel and new mobile phones. The smile from Dalki Bai was still there as she told me about how she wishes her son came back. She fears he may never continue his studies again. The apprehension is a well validated one, like many others in the past, Gautam might stay on in Ahmedabad and leave school for good. She didn’t want that. She tried talking to his employer, a local Seth, who refused to let him go. It wasn’t forced labour, her son wanted to work and his employer refused to lay him off.
Unlike many other children in India, Gautam may not get the opportunity to come back to school much less to write an essay about how he spent his summer vacations.