Boy Who Polished My Boots
It was one of those winter days when the sun, out of its sheer sympathy for us, perhaps, becomes scorching all of a sudden; and it remains bearable not any longer to keep on our warm layers of winter apparel. I was at the Regional Transport Office for my driving test. Since three months I was trying to obtain a permanent driver’s license. Plagued, as our country is, by red-tapism and beurocracy that the Britons had so graciously bestowed upon us and which no native soul stood up to slay; I had not a choice but to follow the fashion and to wait quietly in patience until the blessed clerks would finally come up with the will to do the needful.
I was waiting for the unholy rituals of the driving test to begin in the dusty field that fell within the premises of the RTO. Piled with garbage on both ends, it was stinking as hell. Such a miserable excuse for a testing ground it was!
As I was dozing inside my car, a boy, of nine or ten years perchance, appeared on the side of my window and asked me if I would like to get my shoes polished. He was wearing blue jeans and a red blazer that was filled with dust. His hairstyle seemed gentlemanly, even though one could see the dust that was stuck with his oiled and perfectly combed hairs. He looked me in the eye and said he was hungry; I couldn’t say no. He took his satchel off his little shoulders. It was, but, an improvised shaving kit with a strap sewed on. I was wearing combat boots, the likes of those issued to the parachute regiments, which I bought from military surplus stores. As I was untying the laces, the imagery of his mother getting him ready to go to work pranced across my eyes, reminding me of my childhood days when my mother used to comb my hairs every morning before I went off to school. I doubt if he had ever seen a classroom from the inside.
After brushing my boots he applied a few drops of a black liquid on them, with utmost care and concentration. I had never seen such a thing. I said to myself, ‘At last, a man who does his job with perfection’. It took me not any longer than a moment to realize that I was very wrong, for he wasn’t a man, but a child. Nevertheless, he polished boots as if Keats did poetry. I couldn’t dare ask him if he wanted to study, or, for that matter of fact, what he intended to do in his life. It seemed to me that all he cared about, at that point of time, was to polish those thrice accursed boots and get him something to eat.
Quietly and precisely he finished his job, without looking elsewhere for a single instance. Smiling, I gave him a five rupee coin. He didn’t smile back; rather he looked at me with indifference. I noticed that his eyes were mature and brown – browner than mine. I thought of nothing as he walked away.
Breaking the silence, my mother said, ‘Now do these boys have less brains than anyone else? It’s a pity that they can’t go to school. I believe that at least they would make fine clerks, if given a shot.’
Disagreeing with her, I said, ‘Those boys for whom life has been a bed of roses would make fine clerks; as for boys like him, if and when given a chance, they would settle for nothing less than doing great and heroic deeds in life!’
Great things are what I intend to do in my life. As far as the driving license is concerned, I was told to come again the next day, owing to some godforsaken technicality.
© Prateek Mishra - All rights reserved.
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