An unanswered question

He was excitedly planning to visit Prague to attend a workshop for three days there. It was part of his official assignment for further learning the processes involved in his work as a young techie. It was an opportunity, too, to be at a place which counts among the top tourist hotspots in Europe. As he drove on the road that flanks the usually dry monsoon stream skirting the city, he was lost in a reverie and was contemplating the details of his upcoming visit.

The stream was once the haunt of vultures hovering around carcasses of cattle. But he had not seen vultures for years. The bed of the stream was now dotted with shanties of junk pickers. No permanent structures these! The vagaries of rain, storm or accidental fire could undo them in minutes. Yet, he noticed men, women and children buzzing around their huts made of sticks and polythene sheets, talking loudly, laughing and sometimes even quarrelling.

These were the dwellings that sheltered the children, usually below ten years of age, who are seen selling balloons, soft toys or car window shades at the crossings. These children entreat you to buy their goods, and you wave them aside. For a split second, they pull a long face, but the next moment they turn with a giggle to the fellow children to share a joke or a secret smile.

He wondered what it is that sets him apart from these people. Where do they belong? How much Indian are they? Does India mean anything to them? Have they ever taken a ride in a car? Do pucca houses have a meaning for them? How is it that they can safely drink water from anywhere while he himself looks for bottled stuff? Do they have dreams like his?

It was getting dark. He looked out of the car. A girl around ten was leading by the finger her sibling, some two years younger, through the bushes on the sandy slope, leading to the cluster of shanties where probably they had their home, sweet home. He shuddered at the idea of himself venturing on such a track where one could only grope and not see. Besides, there could be thorns or splinters of glass or nails, or if worse, even a snake!

Who gives them this strength? Why is he so weak in comparison to them when they live on meager meals that seldom include a milk item or vitamins? While Prague was his upcoming dream destination, what was their dream or destination? The question lingers unanswered!