MIDWAY: The pen pushers

I saw her for the first time in front of my shop. Probably in her late teens, the girl had been standing in the scorching sun for hours, asking passersby to buy some pens. No matter how hard she pitched her wares, her efforts were clearly not paying off. She, however, persisted, eventually succeeding is selling a few of her colourful pens.

Sometimes, she would throw leery glances at me, as if she feared retribution. This made me recall another incident. A while ago, I had bumped into a total stranger. He exuded total confidence. “Excuse me Mam, if you could kindly buy this little pen [it’s usually a pen] your contribution would go for destitute children.” He frisked out a pen from his little bag. The innocence in his eyes and his benign motive eventually convinced me. I bought one.

My perception about these young street hawkers would probably have remained unsullied had I not met another guy trying out the same trick on me the very next day. I was peeved. I kindly informed him I had just bought it the day before. But he kept pestering me until I doled out the money.

I met many youngsters in the following days, some pitching the same lines while others confessed to scraping a living out of the pen trade. Indeed, like the hundreds of thousands of youths across the country, they too were unemployed. I clearly remember how I used to dodge these youngsters looking for an easy catch. I could have gone on hating them had one of them not given me the most honest of replies some days later.

They did it for a living, he said frankly, “We are no crooks. Most of us go to colleges and hope to earn respectable livings in the future. Till that day, we will struggle with the humiliation and contempt we have to endure everyday.”

That changed my entire outlook. These young people had been forced to turn a fasttrick to earn a respectable livelihood for themselves, and their poor families who could not afford their education. Hence when I bump into one of them these days, I never brush him aside. For I know how big even small contributions are to keep his hardscrabble life going.