Yesterday I saw something that I didn’t understand.
They were walking a little ahead of me.
But walking isn’t the right word,
because there were two people
and only two feet.
It sounds like a math problem,
But nothing added up in my head.
It sounds like Vikram Vetal, papa,
But unlike the story you told me the other day,
there was no strong king or sly demon.
I saw, however, one dirty underfed boy of eight
dragging his crippled mother across the street.
Adhunik Shravan bal.
A Lilliputian on a Herculean task.
I couldn’t decipher her age.
When you’re that poor, does age matter?
Do they keep count of the days that pass by
when their aim is to survive just one?
Do they have a mirror to look into
and count the wrinkles on their face?
What does age matter to an eight year old boy
who, instead of attending school,
is hauling his handicapped mother across the road
on a seating board with wheels?
When I was that age, papa,
you bought me a skateboard
that was the exact leaf green
from my 50 colours oil pastels set.
I couldn’t see the colour of their clothes.
There was the dark of the night,
yellow of the street lights
and everything was in sepia
like the picture you showed me
of your childhood.
You once told me you were raised in poverty too, papa.
Are there different kinds of poverty?
Did you get toys to play with
or were your clothes in sepia too?
I told you this sounds like a math problem, papa,
And here’s what doesn’t add up.
Isn’t a parent supposed to hold their child’s hand
and show them how to cross the road?
I remember holding your hand,
and matching my steps
with your strides.
Fast, but never run.
Who taught him, papa?
Did he have his own papa to teach him?
How did he learn to walk fast enough
and pull hard enough
so that he and his mom made it across the road in time?
How did he find the strength if he was underfed?
He truly reminds me of Shravan bal,
because who else would carry his mother
across such distances.
I told you it sounds like Vikram Vetal, papa,
and now that I think about it, it really does.
Maybe this little boy is a young king.
Maybe he brings his vetal back home every day.
Maybe he hears her talk about her day.
And maybe, papa,
when he succeeds every night,
she saves him from an evil tantric.
An evil tantric called hunger.