Lost Spring by Anees Jung [With Questions and Answers]
About the author .. Anees Jung was a Indian woman writer. She was born in Rourkela in Odisha, but her upbringing was in Hyderabad. Although born in an affluent and highly influential family, she developed an uncanny interest in the plight of downtrodden women and children. Her father, mother and brother were well-versed in literature and excelled in writing. Hyderabad is a city of contrasts where Muslim women, particularly the poor, live in highly patriarchal families with wrenching restrictions of Islamic orthodoxy. There are also the sprawling slums where rag pickers live off the trash generated by the city. Aneees must have been moved seeing such deprivation, inequality, and the oppression of Muslim women.
She studied in the Osmani University in Hyderabad before proceeding to the University of Michigan in United States to do her Masters in Sociology. Anees Jung was a humanist, a deeply compassionate and caring woman. Her book Unveiling India chronicles the story of the many oppressed Muslim woman she met. Lost Spring is one such story of poor and displaced children scavenging garbage dumps to collect some scrap to sell and earn a little money to buy food.
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.
Question 1.. Why and how Saheb landed in India?
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.
Question 2 . Why did the author feel uncomfortable when Saheb enquired about the school?
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.
Question 3 .. Describe how Saheb’s day started and ended?
Saheb’s real name is Saheb-e-Alam which translates to the ‘Lord of the Universe’. What an irony! The Lord 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 lose his footwear, even if his mother gave it to him. Another member of the scavenger gang said he wanted shoes as he had never worn one all his life.
Question 4 .. Why did Saheb go about bare-footed?
In villages and cities, one comes across umpteen 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. It might be an entrenched practice that lingering poverty has forced upon the poorer sections of society.
Question 5 .. Why you see so many people bare-footed people in villages?
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 pass 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.
Question 6 .. Describe how things have improved in Udipi through the author’s eyes.
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.
Question 7.. Describe the conditions inside Seemapuri and its inhabitants.
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.
Question 8.. What do government records say about the migrants, and why?
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.
Saheb rummages through the garbage with hope and energy. At times, he finds a one-rupee coin, even a ten-rupee one. Such a find gives him a boost, and he digs in with greater zeal. For their parents, the coins bbe essential to buy food, but for the children, the discovery means excitement and thrill. The perception of scavenging differs from the younger to the older generation.
On occasions, Saheb sneaks in to the luxurious tennis court in the club. The kind guard lets him in. On other occasions, he stands outside of the barbed wire fence watching smartly-dressed club members playing the game. Saheb years to play, but he can’t. The court may be just a few feet away, but in social hierarchy he is miles away from those who play the game dressed in ultra-white clothes!
Question 9 .. Why did Saheb often hung around the wire fence of the Club?
The author one day finds Saheb wearing a pair of tennis shoes, but they look so incongruent with his soiled shirt and shorts. It seems someone gave it off to him, because the shoes had nearly ran their life. Yet, Saheb was quite pleased with the acquisition.
Saheb has managed to get a petty job in a nearby tea stall. The author spots him carrying a canister to fetch milk from the milk booth. He is entitled to free meals and Rs.800 as monthly salary. The job has brought him some steady income, but has left him fettered to the duty. He can no longer wander around with a light plastic bag on the back. He has to carry a much heavier milk canister. Most importantly, he is tied to the timing and demands of his job, and can’t roam as he liked.
Question 10 .. Why did the tea shop job not quite excite Saheb?
“I want to drive a car.”
The author runs into another such boy named Mukesh in Firozabad that produces almost the whole of the glass bangles India needs. In this bustling town, people have survived for generations melting and blowing and shaping bangles of all hues and sizes. The absence of alternate means of livelihood has tied people to this hazardous job for centuries. Mukesh lives and works here in the world of low wages and back-breaking work. He is under-aged for work as per rules, but he prods on, regardless. He is condemned to life-long slog near the hot furnaces. Yet, he dreams to drive a car one day.
Question 11 .. Who is Mukesh? Why is the author interested in him?
Walking through the garbage filled alleys, Mukesh escorts the author to his half-built home – a mud brick half completed dwelling. The surrounding houses that the duo passed through are no better. They all are old, decrepit, and wear all the marks of poverty. Inside Mukesh’s house, the author gets to see the primitive state of their living. The rooms ar congested and ill-lit. A young woman bearing visible marks of malnutrition was chopping vegetables.
The young woman welcomes the author with a smile. She is the wife of Mukhesh’s elder brother. On seeing her father-in-law, she draws her veil down – a mark of respect and submission. The old man’s life-long earning has been so less that the two sons had to skip school, and with no option left, took to their father’s trade of bangle making.
Firozabad might boast to be the bangles hub of India, but behind this façade of commercial success hides the scourge of low wages, child labor, lack of education, no healthcare, and debilitating diseases. Mukhes’s laments how her husband lost his vision due to continuous exposure to the glare of molten glass and the cloud of glass dust in the work place. She says the curse is inescapable, and Mukesh is condemned to work and suffer the same way. In such poor families, almost all members – very young to very old—work together to produce bangles that would fetch them just enough income to make a bare living.
Question 12.. Why do you think Firozabad despite providing livelihood to large numbers of people perpetuates exploitation and misery to its workers?
The author’s eyes fall on Sabita, who helps an elderly woman to make bangles. She is too young to realize that bangles are sacrosanct for the married women of India. One day, when she grows up and is made ready for marriage, she will realize the sanctity of bangles she helped to produce in scores. The elderly woman says she hadn’t had a sumptuous meal all her life. Her husband, an old man with long beard laments how he has slogged his whole life, but has just managed to build a small house to live. He has accomplished nothing else, but even having a roof over the head is quite something.
Question 13 .. List the reasons why the bangle makers are unhappy with their trade.
With paltry wages, paying for two full meals a day is a luxury. The earning leaves no leeway for a parent to send the children to go to school and pick up some skill to break free of the stranglehold of bangles making. Thus, the misery becomes perennial, and all the doors of escape from this trap of a low-income trade are shut for ever. Firozabad has stood still, refusing to change towards a freer, more caring society.
When the author suggested that the workers could form a cooperative to eliminate the greedy middlemen, most said it was a fraught proposition. If any such initiative is taken, the vested interests would do everything possible to stile it and nip the effort in the bud. Even the police would side with them, and harass the poor workers. ‘With no leader, no clout, the idea of forming a cooperative is doomed,’ most workers lamented.
While reflecting on the malaise, the author found that the poor workers faced two insurmountable hurdles. First, they belonged to a low caste as bangle artisans are generally looked down upon. This shackle is so hard to break. Secondly, the saukars or the moneyed middlemen were too powerful and too entrenched in the trade to be unseated. They can garner the support of the police, bureaucracy, and the politicians to smother the workers’ initiative.
Question 14 .. Why the poor workers can’t form a cooperative?
Who thinks of the child? He is doomed. He has no elbow room to choose his future. Before he gathers some wisdom, he is told that the only option available to him for survival is to take to his father’s trade of bangle making.
Mukesh’s attitude and ambition comes as a breath of fresh air to the author. Mukesh says he wants to work in a garage and become a motor mechanic. The garage is quite a distant away, but Mukesh is ready to make it by foot. When asked about being a pilot, he demurs. He has seen cars plying on the road, but not planes flying in Firozabad’s skies.
Question 15 .. What is Mukesh’s ambitions? Can he succeed in it?
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