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By Sumit Singh

DSCN2618Last week when I received a call from an unknown number, I was about to disconnect thinking it must have been from a mobile service provider to offer me a new post-paid pack. I decided to give it back to them this time. But when I took the call, the voice from the other side shouted “Bhaiyya, kaise ho?”. Even as I was trying to connect to the voice it said again, “Bhaiyya, main Man Kumar!”

Man Kumar would usually call me from another number around 7 am and laugh at me: “Bhaiyya abhi so rahe ho!”. I’d try to lie to him. But of late, he’s been calling me around 9 am. Which I why I was a bit surprised when he called when I was having lunch. I also registered he’d changed his sim card.

Man Kumar is usually up by 6 am every morning and walks down to his field near his house with some Surgujiya remixed numbers playing on his Chinese mobile.  When he’d call around 9 am, he’d normally say, “Bhaiyya, abhi mai goru, gheri charaye jaat has,” (I’m now with the cattle grazing in the field).

When he called this time, he was near Ambikapur. “Aapke ghar ke paas hi hoon, district hospital ke paas.” What was he doing near Ambikapur? “Ek hafta hogayaa, kaam chaalu hokar.” (It’s been a week since I’ve been working).

I wasn’t surprised. Most kids of his age work as construction workers. “Even if I complete my studies, I will still need to work. It’s better if I work now, so that I gain experience and support my family.”

Mantosh, as he’s called by his friends is just 17. He’s also a participant of the Adolscent Engagement using Media Tools (AEMT) training. During our residential training, he would request me to arrange speakers so that he can play songs and dance with other participants. He promised me that if I practiced with him then I could learn “Karma” (local dance form of Surjuga) in six months.

A black and white striped muffler is a fixture irrespective of the weather. It’s a style statement too. “He’s famous got a lot of girl friends,” some of his friends told me. “I’m just friends with a few girls in his village,” he’d reply sheepishly.

Mantosh quit the 5th standard after his father’s death in 2009. “I still like school, but can’t attend it.” Asked why he didn’t go back to school, he told me “Abhi mere dost sab aage chale gaye hai, or wo log bolte hai agar tu hum logo ke sath nahi aayega to school me aake kyaa karega? Or mere pas kam bhi to hai” (All my friends are in high school; now I can’t attend school with them, so there is no reason to attend school. Apart from this I have to work, there is no time for school).DSCN2614

He’s my village correspondent of sorts. He once called me and alerted me not to come to his village. “Haija (cholera) phaila hai, mat aana.”

When I met Mantosh at the construction site, he introduced me to Sunil, just 15. Both of them cycle 30 kms back & forth to the construction site and work for eight hours to get about Rs.200. Sunil is more experienced and prepares the cement while Mantosh carries bricks.

“Bachpan mein Ghar Gunariya khelte the. Ab bade ghar banaa rahe hai. Bus ek hi dikkat hai. Macchhar bahut kaat the hain.”

I asked him what he would do after he learnt how to use the camera and edit videos. “Pataa nahi kaam milega yaa nahi. Lekin gao ka samasyaon par filmein banoonga. Par wo tabi hoga jab bada camera hoga; chote camera bas nahi hoga yahan ki baatein bataane ke liye.”

Man Kumar wants to bring out the issue of polluted water in his village as his first assignment. According to him, every year lot of people fall ill in his village just because of polluted water.

How would he manage his work during our training sessions to which he stood quiet for some time and then replied, “I will manage some how”.

It was time to let him go back to his work. I got up and said we’d meet again. He said, “Bhaiya aap jab apna ghar banaaoge tab mujhe bolna, hum log bana denge” (Whenever you construct your house please tell us, we will do that job).

I didn’t know what to say. I just walked away, with more questions triggered in my mind.

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