CBSE English Literature –Lost Spring analysis

Lost Spring [With Questions and Answers]

Sometimes I find a Rupee in the garbage.
Saheb is an urchin. Fate has been very cruel to him. He scratches a living by foraging garbage heaps in and around his locality. Saheb hails from Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. Like scores of refugees, he too made his way to India, but conditions here has been no better than in Dhaka. He has all but forgotten Dhaka.

His mother tells him that storms and typhoons ravaged their shanty home and fields making them destitute in their own land. They fled for greener pastures in neighboring India, and settled down in the city where he lives now. But, happiness and dignity has eluded him in this teeming city. His poverty bites him relentlessly.

The author speaks to him. She suggests that he go to school, but the idea was so impractical. Saheb is fed up with the drudgery of rag-picking, and says he would love to go to a school if there is one nearby. He said this when she offered to start a school.

Some days later, she runs into Saheb again. He wants to know if she had started the school. Saheb’s question puts her in the defensive. Her offer to start a school was just a flippant suggestion. She feels guilty for having contributed to the litany of broken promises Saheb would have faced stoically. She wriggles out of the embarrassment saying that building a school is time-consuming.

She meets the boy quite often in a group of other boys, all in tattered clothes and sunken eyes. They all scavenge the garbage dumps for anything worthwhile like some recyclable waste, bits of food etc. etc. For them the day starts in the morning and ends by noon when the Sun beats down mercilessly. Poverty had scarred each one’s face deep and hard.
Saheb’s real name is Saheb-e-Alam which translates to the ‘Lord of the Universe’. What an irony! TheLord of the Universe is down on the streets living off what others have left as waste!

On one occasion the author asked Saheb why he didn’t wear any chappals. Saheb replied that his mother had kept them in the shelf. One of his mates wearing an ill-fitting pair of shoes explained that Saheb would throw off his footwear even if his mother gives it to him. Another member of the scavenger gang says he wants shoes as he has never worn one all his life.

In villages and cities, one comes across umpteen number of boys and girls walking barefoot. It is a common sight. Perhaps, they go about barefoot more as a way of life than due to lack of money to buy a pair of shoes. It might be an entrenched practice that lingering poverty has forced upon the poorer sections of society.

The author recalls a story a man from Udipi had once narrated to her long back. He had a father who worked as a priest in the village temple. Each morning, he would lass by the temple on his way to school. During his brief Darshan, the boy would pray to the deity for a pair of shoes.

Thirty years later, the author visited the same village again. The village had changed beyond recognition. She visited the new priest. He had brightly-coloured plastic chairs in the yard. His school-going son wore uniform, shoes and had a smart school bag. Time, it seemed, had changed things for the better. Sadly, for the scavengers’ gang, time had stood still, unmoved and uninterested.

The author builds up a bond with Saheb. She follows him to Seemapuri, a shanty town in the outskirts of Delhi. Paradoxically, the locality, inhabited by Bangladeshi illegal migrants, is a world apart from the opulence of India’s capital city. Seemapuri has become a haven for Bangladeshis who came to India in the aftermath of the 1971 war. Like a swarm of bees, some 10,000 refugees have filled up this place which was once a totally uninhabited place. Ramshackle huts made out of corrugated tins, and tarpaulins dot the area. Living conditions are appalling, with no power, piped water or sewage. It is a hell. Only the hardiest of humans survive the deprivation and disease that plague the place.

In the government records, these displaced persons do not exist. They have no identity papers, no proof of citizenship and, therefore, no access to subsidized food. For three decades, the refugees have weathered the grim life in a slum. Politicians and government officers have looked askance at these people condemned to live as unwanted intruders under subhuman conditions.

For the men and women, staving off hunger is the primary task. So, they have learned to live with the daily grind of life in a city that does not recognize them as fellow human beings.

Picking through the city’s garbage offends none. So, they indulge in it unflinchingly with rare vigour and optimism. The garbage has become their source of sustenance. Over the years, they have learned how best to pick the right kind of waste—the items they can consume themselves or sell to make some little money. When one place ceases to cater to their needs, they move on to settle in some other place where they can scavenge and get something of value to them. Garbage is ‘gold’ to these nomads. Besides food, garbage picking  enables them to afford a makeshift shelter. For the children, garbage provides some excitement too. 

Saheb’s face lights up when he says how he finds currency notes at times — a one-rupee note, even a ten-rupee one.  When he chances upon a silver coin in the heap, he gets big spurt of energy. With added zeal and energy, he delves deeper into the heap. Thus, garbage is a source of livelihood for the elders, and a source of fun and excitement for the young ones.

One winter morning, the author finds Saheb peering through the barbed wire fence. He saw two tennis player in their whites busy with their game. There is a kind gatekeeper who lets Saheb in when no one is around. He even allows Saheb to use the swing. Ir is a rare instance of sympathy.

Saheb  wears a pair of discarded tennis shoes. With his soiled pant and tattered shirt, he presents a grotesque sight. Despite having a hole in its sole, the pair of shoes provides a queer satisfaction to Saheb. He watches the game gleefully.

Saheb has found a job in a tea stall at a salary of Rs. 800 a month with free food. He fetches milk for the shop from the milk booth. The canister he carries seems to have weighed him down, the same way the responsibility of his job shackled him. He can no longer go on his errands at will.

“I want to dive a car.”

Mukesh, the other urchin, has a different ambition. He wants to be a car mechanic. When quizzed by the author he confidently asserts that he would learn about cars in due course. In the dust-filled city of Firozabad, this dream of an urchin looks so far-fetched. In this city known as the bangles city, generations have lived working in the heat of the melting furnaces and the blowers. No one dared, and none could break the stranglehold of backwardness and lack of opportunities. Mukesh is a member of one such cursed family.

Mukesh along with 20000 other such child workers were oblivious of the rules that prohibit employment of youngsters in factories. The law is equally harsh for those employers who make people work in the hot suffocating sweat-shops. The malaise continues, because the law is never enforced.

Mukesh ushers the author to his home that stands in a dilapidated run-down urban ghetto. With filth all over the place, the alleys appear as if they are gateways to hell. Cows and buffaloes live side by side with their owners.

The author enters Mukesh’s crumbling home. A woman cooks spinach in an aluminium vessel. The stove uses firewood as fuel. Smoke has filled the air. The frail woman’s eyes look deem. She is the wife of Mukesh’s elder brother. As the daughter-in-law in the family, the duty of looking after three men — her husband, her father-in-law, and Mukesh has fallen on her. She appears to be quite young in age.

The father-in-law has slogged hard all his life. He was a tailor before he joined the bangle factory as a worker. So hard has been his wife that despite long years of work as a bangle maker, he has not been to renovate his house. The two sons could n’t go to school. In due course, they would take their father’s trade as bangle makers. Thus, impoverishment is perpetuated.

Mukesh’s grand mother is resigned to her fate. The arduous work in the bangles factory has irreversibly impaired her husband’s vision,  but she seldom complains. ‘It is our fate’, she laments.

Firozabad bristles with deprivation, with umpteen households condemned to work in bangle factories with paltry wages and sub-human working conditions. A lot of bangles work goes on inside their shacks, in deem lights. Long hours of work in such light robs them of their vision much before their dotage.

Savita, a young little girl sits beside another woman doing the same bangle welding. Savita’s nimble fingers move briskly as if they are part of a machine. Bangles are much treasured by Indian women as these glass rings symbolize the dignity of a married woman. Savita is unaware of the importance of the bangles she turns out in hundreds. For her these would bring her the much-needed food for the day. One day, she would be ready for marriage. As a bride she would be decked in red saree, red bangles etc. But, now she has to prod on regardless of the fact that she has not eaten anything for hours. The older woman is married. Years of malnutrition and working in deem light has robbed her of vision and youthful vitality. Her husband, with long beards, rues the fact that her whole life of hard work has neither provided him enough food nor a decent shelter. But, he is luckier than many others of his class. Others don’t have even a roof over their head, which the beareded man has somehow managed to have.

Firozabad might be a bristling hub of bangle manufacturing, but the scourge of backwardness, poverty, and pessimism has cast a long shadow over it. It is a city of despair and despondency. 

The suggestion of the author to organize themselves through cooperatives evokes an indifferent response from some young men standing nearby. They know the law, the police and the authorities will come down hard to smother such initiatives. There is no hope, no urge to break free of their curse.

The fate is so cruel for these folks. Factory owners, middlemen, traders all proper at the cost of these hapless illiterate workers. The state apparatus sides with the affluent and the wealthy. The world is so much riddled with inequality.

It is heartening to see Mukesh’s flickering optimism shining from under the pile of poverty and deprivation.He wants to work in a garage situated quite a distance away. When the author asks Mukesh how he would reach the garage he says he would walk it.

The author confronts him with another question. If he would like to fly a plane, asks the author. The bemused Mukesh declines the overly ambitious suggestion. He will be content driving a car, declares Mukesh.


We invite questions from readers.

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