I entered the seater coach on a train from Udaipur to Ajmer so that I can finally get to Pushkar. There were a few empty seats on the train and it was a surprise because back in Mumbai the locals were the only affordable way to get around the city and they are always full of people.
But something did not feel right, I got weird looks from other passengers and I bet someone must have thought, ‘He looks weird, like someone who can’t be trusted.’ It could have been because I looked like shit. I was wearing a short white kurta, stained with dust, food and God knows what other mess people leave behind on those sleeper buses. My jeans had not been washed since a couple of weeks and on my back was the standard backpackers rucksack, a tripod and another bag over the front which I simply call the quick access bag and it includes an assortment of things like – my cellphone, change money, music player, a bottle of water, camera filters, wet tissues, deodorant, random magazines on travel or photography, my guide book, a miniature glow-in-the-dark T-Rex skeleton (which I got back in the days when McDonalds had newly opened in Pune and could be the very first happy meal toy I ever got), a pack of Benson Lights, a clipper and a few weirdly shaped and coloured rocks not bigger than the size of my toe nail. Now this bag is very important when you go backpacking, but that is for another story.
The protagonist in this story is the boy from the photography. I first saw him while he was walking down the aisles in the coach and asking people whether they need him to fix their bags. When no one wanted his services he sat down by train’s door on the other side from where I was standing.
A while later I walked over to the other side and asked him whether I could take his photographs, he said I can, but only if I teach him how to take photographs on this ‘bada camera’ I had. It is obvious that I agreed, and I not only got a photograph but also had an interesting conversation with him during the rest of our journey.
I learned that his name is Rahul, he lives in Ajmer with his drunkard of a father, his mother picks up garbage and he has three younger siblings who study in a government school. He not only fixes bags in trains, but also works as a cobbler at the Ajmer railway station. He chooses not to study as whatever meagre money his mom makes is spent towards his father’s alcoholism and hence he has to make a few bucks more to support their household and also for a better future for his siblings.
Rahul has strong some plans for his future, while he believes that by not going to school he can work a few more hours to support his family, he wants his siblings to study further. He told me that he is learning to drive an auto-rickshaw from one of his much elder friends and that he will soon become an auto-rickshaw driver when he gets his license. When I met Rahul he was 12 years old which should make him 16 at this time when I am writing the post.
Stories like these are in abundance in India, when I met that kid I realised how matured he was at this young age. Despite his situation I felt he could achieve anything in his life. Alcoholism is a big demon of our society and I could only imagine lives of other children and families being affected by it, if only we could do something about it, right?
In the end when we got down at the Ajmer railway station, I took Rahul out for lunch at a place where he said we can get the best food, then treated him with an ice-cream and it was then that for a short while I saw a child in him trying his best fight (in his own way) the many demons of our society. He then walked with me to the bus stop from where I caught my ride to Pushkar and left me with a story I which motivates me even today.
I still look back at that day and I can see it as clear as still water at the Pangong Tso lake. I think that day I made two people happy and one of them was me.