Pitara Kids Network

The Ride to Bondage

Chintu and Gullu were very, very excited. They were going to ride camels!

Both of them worked in a fireworks factory where they made firecrackers for Diwali and other festivals. Their meagre earnings helped their families to make life worth living. Now their lives would totally change. Mr. Ali had seen to that.

Mr. Ali was Chintu’s father’s new friend. He lived far, far away. He had told Chintu’s father that Chintu was exactly right for riding camels — the right size and the right weight. Not too fat, nor too thin, or too tall. He was exactly RIGHT!

For Chintu the only thing that was right was the money Mr. Ali paid his father for taking Chintu camel riding. It had been a big amount. So big that it had tempted Gullu’s father to send Gullu camel riding too!

Mr. Ali took Chintu and Gullu away. Their photographs were taken. Both were given a new set of clothes and a neat haircut. Then Mr. Ali told them they were going to fly in a plane, a huge plane with lots of other people.

“A plane!” gasped Chintu in amazement.

“Pl…a…ne !” stuttered a stunned Gullu.

The Ride to Bondage [Illustrations by Kusum Chamoli]
Mr. Ali looked at them sternly. “Listen to me carefully,” he said. “At the airport, Chintu will pretend that he is deaf, while you, Gullu, pretend to be dumb. Don’t let a word come out of your mouth. Understand?”

Chintu looked at him. Mr. Ali was smiling but his eyes looked menacing. For some strange reason, a shiver crawled down Chintu’s spine. Fear gripped Gullu.

“I want to go home!” said Gullu.

“Go!” said Mr. Ali, shrugging his shoulders. “But, remember to tell your father to return the money I gave him. Otherwise he will have visitors…,” he grinned viciously. “The police,” he said.

All the excitement ebbed out of the boys. Fear replaced it. But they did not know what to do.

Two days later, Mr. Ali took them to the airport. Chintu and Gullu were amazed to see it. It was so huge. The planes looked so big. The planes had looked so tiny when they flew over their village!

“You are deaf and he is dumb!” muttered Mr. Ali to Chintu.

Mr. Ali took them to a counter where many men were standing. The boys watched as he handed one of the men some small books. The man opened a book and peered at Gullu.

“Akram?” the man asked.

Gullu gave him a blank look.

“He’s dumb!” said Mr. Ali.

The man then looked at Chintu and opened another book.

“How old are you?” he asked Chintu.

“He’s deaf!” said Mr. Ali.

The man looked at the boys. Chintu knew he didn’t believe the boys were deaf and dumb! He tried to make his face look as blank as was possible. Gullu kept his lips tightly shut.

The man took the little books and went to talk to some other men. Now all the men looked at Mr. Ali and the boys. Another man joined them. He looked at the boys and their companion before opening the books one by one. The man came towards them.

“Mr. Ali?” he asked.

Mr. Ali nodded his head.

“Why did you come to India?”

“To show rain to these little nephews of mine!” replied Mr. Ali to the utter amazement of the boys.

Chintu wondered if he had heard right. He must have, for Gullu’s mouth had fallen open in amazement too!

However, the man who questioned Mr. Ali was not amazed. Once again he opened the books in his hand.

“We will miss our flight!” exclaimed Mr. Ali angrily. “What is wrong with the passports? Why do you keep checking them?”

“You will have to wait a little while,” replied the officer. “Why don’t you all sit down?”

Chintu was just about to turn and walk towards the chairs when a glare from Mr. Ali reminded him that he was supposed to be deaf! With great difficulty he put the blank expression back on his face.

“That boy seems to have understood what I said!” remarked the officer sarcastically.

Mr. Ali ignored the man’s remark. He shoved the boys angrily towards the seating enclosure. They all sat down. The boys gazed around, watching passengers as they moved to and fro. Both of them kept their mouths tightly shut!

Mr. Ali kept looking at his wristwatch and muttering in anger. Then, slowly, he relaxed and some time later, to the boys’ amazement, he fell asleep! Chintu grinned at Gullu but said nothing.

It must have been ten minutes later that an announcement blared, “Mr. Ali is requested to meet Inspector Godbole at Counter Number 1. Mr. Ali, you are requested to immediately proceed to Counter Number 1. Message for Mr. Ali. Please check in at counter number 1. Repeat. Mr. Ali….”

Mr. Ali’s eyes flickered open but at once shut again! Chintu shook him awake.

“Ugh… What happened?”

Chintu repeated the message for him.

“Idiot!” hissed Mr. Ali angrily. “Don’t you know? You are deaf!”

“Mr. Ali, you are under arrest!” said a voice behind them.

Mr. Ali and the two boys swirled around. There stood the officer with their passports and with him an Inspector.

“That boy is not deaf! We heard him give the message to you!”

“Besides, he hardly looks ten years old,” remarked the Inspector. “Could be about fourteen, though he is a bit on the short side. Where are you going, son?”

“Camel riding!” Chintu replied, forgetting Mr. Ali’s instructions to act deaf.

Mr. Ali angrily boxed him on the ear.

Gullu, in a reckless rage, kicked Mr. Ali hard on the shins as tears welled up in Chintu’s eyes.

“You ungrateful brat!” screamed Mr. Ali, as he gripped Gullu’s arm viciously.

“Aha!” exclaimed the inspector. “We seem to have guessed right!”

Mr. Ali was led away. Inspector Godbole took the boys to the police station. Their home address was noted down. The boys told the officer they worked at a firecracker factory and that their parents were paid a large sum of money by Mr. Ali who promised the boys a camel ride everyday if they left their parents and went away with him.

“We hardly ride anywhere!” said Gullu. “We always walk. We don’t even have bikes, so we were really thrilled to be offered camel rides!”

“You were being taken by that man, Mr. Ali, to participate in a camel race! You would have been tied to the camel!” retorted the inspector. “Boys have to be of a particular size and the correct weight. When the camel hears you scream, it gets excited and runs fast. It’s a nightmare for the hapless little boys. They get bruised all over as they are bumped up and down.”

Chintu and Gullu were horrified.

“It’s a popular but cruel sport. Poor little boys and their families are lured into it by awful men, like Mr. Ali, who tempt the parents with large sums of money and promise the boys a fun time.”

Inspector Godbole promised to take the boys back to their village. He made them swear that they would go to school. He told them that it was illegal to work at that age.

“But our families need the money badly, sir!” said Gullu.

Inspector Godbole said he would visit the fireworks factory where Chintu and Gullu worked. He would get social workers to teach the children who worked at the factory and also reduce the numbers of hours they worked in a day. Then he would see to it that the premises were made safe for the children and the owners of these factories gave the child workers at least one free meal in the day. He said he would talk to the owners and make sure the children got better wages for the work they put in. He would also try to create better work opportunities for their parents. If the parents had well-paid jobs they would not need to send their young children out to work.

“All this will take time,” said Inspector Godbole. But he was determined to do this. After all, children too had rights!

And so, in the end Chintu and Gullu were spared a future of hardship and terror thanks to the clever officers at the airport who sniffed trouble when they saw Mr. Ali. And also thanks to the kind Inspector Godbole who promised the boys a better life in their own village with their own families…