Audio: Building New Homes
Exploring the theme ‘Home is not a Place’ for Papercuts Vol. 14, we found ourselves thinking of those children who choose to leave the homes they were born in and, at great personal risk, escape to the big city to make their fortunes.
Making their journeys towards new destinies and new homes.
In the heart of Delhi, we found two teenagers who came here as runaways, several years ago. Luckily, both of them were able to find support, and are today “at home” in Delhi.
Moonlighting as tour guides who take people through the bastis of Purani Dilli on foot, the boys also attend school during the day and are very serious about learning how to speak in English – which they’re certain is their big ticket to a good future.
In this candid interview with Papercuts and Desi Writers’ Lounge, we meet the exuberant, 19-year-old Ejaz, who tells us the meaning of his name with great pride in his voice – “someone who’s going to invent or discover something amazing”. Accompanying him is the shy Muntazir, who – at 14 – lives in a shelter for the homeless, but knows that the destiny he awaits is not too far away either.
Ejaz: I am originally from Jharkhand, which is in the northern part of India – it is between Varanasi and Kolkata. I have my parents and five siblings in my family. My father is a maulvi – he is a priest in a mosque – and he also wanted me to become like him. When I was 10 years old, my father used to teach me the Quran, but I didn’t understand the Quran much. I told my father that I want to take admission in regular school, but he wouldn’t listen to me. He used to say that I should become a priest, which I never wanted to be. So he used to beat me a lot. Tired of the beating, I decided to leave my home. Finally, after some time, I left and took the train to New Delhi. I spent some time roaming here and there at the New Delhi railway station, but fortunately one day I met a social worker of Salaam Baalak Trust and I told him my whole story.
When Muntazir told us about his departure from his home, he painted a picture of himself that sat oddly with the soft-spoken boy we met!
Muntazir: My house is in Bihar. My father is a farmer. He could never earn enough to support the family. I was short-tempered by nature and decided to run away from home to find work in the city and make money. When I reached Delhi, I kept wandering around for a few days, and then met a social worker who helped me find this shelter.
Meeting family expectations can be a daunting thing for anybody, and Ejaz has some pertinent advice for parents out there! But even he agrees that it shaped him into who he is today –
Ejaz: It’s good that sometimes parents think that all the things they want for their children, would be good. But sometimes they are wrong. Some parents force their child to become this or that, which is really wrong. Everybody has a different dream and desire to do this or that. I was very interested in studying, except the Quran – whatever my father used to teach me. But besides that, my father used to teach me many other things – like I learnt Hindi and some English from home, without going to school. So, I wouldn’t say that my father hasn’t done anything for me.
Papercuts: And what do you miss about home? Of course, you must miss your siblings. But what about other things, like the changing weather? Does that make you think of home?
Muntazir: When reminiscing about home, I think about the person I used to be… but since I ran away to Delhi and have been living at the Salaam Baalak shelter, I like this now.
Papercuts: So you’ve changed? You’re not short-tempered anymore?
Muntazir: No, not anymore. My life used to be one of abject poverty before, now it’s become better.
Ejaz: Sometimes, when I remember my home life… I used to have a lot of friends with whom I used to go to the park and play cricket and football. We used to climb trees. Those are the things I miss a lot, sometimes.
Papercuts: Are all your siblings at home?
Ejaz: All of my siblings are at home, and right now they’re all studying at regular school. Now my father doesn’t force any child to do this or that.
Muntazir: I really like my home at Salaam Baalak Trust and also my home back in the village, because I now have a good relationship with my father and everyone at home.
Finally, we asked the boys if the word ‘home’ simply evokes Delhi in their minds now, and they had a bittersweet response to it.
Ejaz: It has been a long time living in Delhi; I left my home when I was 10 years. Half of my life has been spent here, so I think this is my home. It’s really nice to live on my own, because this is a good way to make ourselves understand what is life. I am just learning how to survive. If I’m getting experiences to live on my own, then I will not face troubles in my future life.
(Papercuts would like to thank Salaam Baalak Trust for helping us co-ordinate the interview with Ejaz and Muntazir.)