Through the gaps of thatched roof the morning rays filtered in. It softly caressed Mangtu’s face. He stirred under the sheet feeling the warmth of it. Slouching on his charpoy the thirteen years old reckoned the day ahead.
He saw the vacant kantha of Aaji on the floor. Being greeted by the morning sun, she had already been up. He looked at her. The cranky faced, Aaji was an emaciated frame. Her gray hair were matted. Burdened with failing health, she had been crouching down. Getting up from mat, she staggered towards the river for morning wash.
An orphaned child of violence ravaged zone, Mangtu had lost his parents’ six years back in rivalry. In the family he and the frail Aaji were the ill-feted survival of the gory aftermath that had taken toll of his parents.
After that, for years ,tagging him along,the frail elderly would walk for work. The house hold leftovers were his childhood feed. Sometimes she had to beg for favors for her underscored served menials. Suitably the name Krishna left far behind in the struggle of life. Eventually he got rechristened to Mangtu.
He would still get quiver at the memory of bloodshed. Under the violent jerk of marauders the decrepit door had soon yielded off. For years the nightmares of rattling door would shiver him. The seven year old then, he was the only witness to the gory crime. But no one came forward to take note of his story.
Justice was a mirage to that violence infested land. In that part of world there were only two choices of survival. Either to join the violence with elusive civilian life or avoid it to face hunger. The place had been steadfastly turning into a land of no god.
After his bath, in front of stained piece of mirror Mangtu combed his hair. He put back it on dusty shelve. Taking out the nylon bag from the peg of rickety wall he counted the bundles of sell. Twelve bundles of incense sticks a day sell would be suffice for his outlay.
Before stepping out he bowed to the pasted photographs of god and Goddesses. A gleam appeared in his eyes. With prayer infused strength he would walk the day. It ensured him some luck and food.
“As he was taught in the ashram, whoever is born, Lord Vishnu – the sustainer of the world takes care of him.” Engrossed in his thoughts he exited off his bunged place and closed the rickety door behind.
Every morning he would sell the joy sticks before heading for ashram school. The supplies of joysticks he had been getting from the Ashram. The school an Ashranshala had been running for orphaned children of violence ravaged area under the rehabilitation plan of govt.
His village and neighboring areas had been witnessing the violence of Maoists verses administration since twenty years.
That day Mangtu, the scrawny one had walked about 10 kilometers for the sale. He reached the market area a bit early. The rural market was slowly awakening. The shops were being opened with the creaking removal of wooden planks.
Till then the few wheeled stalls were somehow staggered at different places. At the corner the wafting aroma of frying snacks had been trying to appeal the clintele. A man of the tea stall had frantically been fanning the coal hearth. After a while, a thin strip of smoke billowed out to it. The billowing smoke seemed to install the show of the day. Soon few people gathered near it. Mangtu spectacled the marketplace standing nears the corner’s eatery. The shop keepers were his regular customers.
While standing near the entrance, aroma of boiling tea rumbled the pang in his belly. He touched his coins in the bag. Those were hardly enough to cover his commute to Ashramshala. He walked towards the parking vehicles to take the trekker for school. There he would be provided the next stock of joy sticks and breakfast. In evening with Aaji he would have the dinner of thick chappatis.
Santosh with another lad of his village was there, in gaudy shirts and jeans. Both of them were orphaned children like him, but now they were gloating in blatant self-reliance. Wallowing in fast acquired confidence of easy bucks they walked to road side kiosk for coke.
Mangtu, took a side seat and waited patiently for the commute. Finally in half an hour, folks poured in to board the vehicle. When it bulked with commuters it rambled ahead on the pock marked road. But a few yards ahead, it snarled and halted for few more travelers waiting alongside the dusty road. The commuters easily squeezed in between already stuffed vehicle. Then again it rattled and moved ahead.
At the Asramshala he would have the free breakfast of khichri to chill his hunger pang, he mused. Santosh with Manni sat beside him. He asked Mangtu “Are you going school for joy stick bundles, you don’t have anything better to do?” He nudged Manni with simper.
Flashing out his cell phone Santosh got busy in conversation.The lure of easy money had been trapping the teens and youths of the village, the rumors were abuzz around.
Youngsters were lured for easy money. Till last year these guys had been to the school. Since winter they hadn’t been to Ashramshala without any rationale. After a drive of twenty minutes the ramshackle jeep creaked and halted near a stall for gasoline. Both of them alighted to have a tobacco sachet, Mangtu turned his attention to other side.
Alighting off the jeep he walked for half an hour to reach the Asramshala.
For last two years Mangtu and other children had been relying on the food and vocation offered by the Asramshala. But the olders of the lot were evading the classes and prayer session on trivial excuses. Perhaps they were now being engaged in different chores. Flashing their gaudy shirts, and gizmos many of them were being spotted at the different places.
In past, many had been left the school unannounced, who knew-where did they head?
Like Mangtu, thousands of children in Thaneboli traverse long distances and turn up at Ashramsala under the hunger and lost childhood. But months or year later, a large number would disappear abruptly.
Like Mangtu many smaller children would be encouraged to join the school with the help of local NGO and government help for two years. But the rate of disappearance was gathering momentum. Now a day’s many of them were roaming around with hushed up rumors of better work and extra money, flashing the eye catching gizmos.
Dip in obscurity since independence the far flung Thaneboli had been in people memories for deadly battles between Maoists and police and then for the abysmally low literacy rate.
Were Thaneboli’s drops out going back to home, joining another school, or picking up arms? No one knew!
The fluid movements of children, in and out of the school were concern of none.
The ongoing strife has had a debilitating impact on the fallen illiteracy. It had been enhancing poverty rate in the entire region. Media and public attention on the conflicts’ failed to bear any result. To deal hapless violence schools had been turned into barracks by security forces. And others simply reduced to rubbles by the Maoists.
No one knew when the battle of twenty years would end by the spartan help of government or NGOs? Or will it be replaced by another insurgent faction which was taking shape to replace the older one. After all who had bothered to find out in the land of apathy?