The Thing About Childlike Curiosity

It was a hot summer afternoon in Kolkata and I was standing in a long queue. We had decided to spend some time in the Science City before our departure to Delhi and were now mildly regretting the decision. The queue was awfully long for a 3D show (that would perhaps not meet our expectations anyway). With rumbling stomachs and impatient demeanours, we waited.

Shortly, my eyes fell on a little girl who stood on the other side of our stanchion. She was as tiny as the barrier and was playing with the elastic cord that connected two stanchions. She had short hair and an adorable frock. She was perhaps the only human there oblivious to the excruciating wait –she had found entertainment for herself in the elastic cord itself. The little girl continuously hit the elastic cord with her tiny palm. She would watch the cord vibrate and move, and then smile with glee. Her discovery had filled her with wonder. Her eyes were wide and her mirth was infectious. It was almost like NASA had finally found that alternate life existed.

Not long after, her parents noticed what she was doing. Absentmindedly, her father grasped the cord between his palm, causing it to stop vibrating. He then resumed talking to her mother. I expected the little girl to begin crying now –she had found a wonderful game that her father had successfully ruined. To my surprise, she didn’t cry at all!

Instead of throwing a tantrum, her eyes opened wider and her mouth formed an ‘O’. Cautiously, she hit her palm against the cord to make it vibrate and then grasped the cord in her palm, thereby causing it to stop. It was true –the cord could stop too! Her smile turned into laughter as she repeated the process over and over again –first causing the cord to vibrate and then making it stop. What was natural, almost immaterial, to the humans twice her size around her, became an adventure for her.

Her glee was seamless and infectious. Before I knew it, I was smiling too.

“Why Don’t You Go To School?”

It had been a long day at college. My friend and I sat in a taxi outside the college gate, waiting. It was 5 already. I calculated the time it would take me to reach home and sighed. Why was life so hard?
“Bhaiya, please hurry up!” we called to the driver.

The sun would set soon. The crowds on the road were beginning to thin. Horns could be heard in the distance. People gathered around in small groups near the tea-stall. Others sat and smoked, chatting. My friend and I bought something to eat. As we sat eating and talking, our eyes fell on a small boy standing near our taxi. He was young, barely over eleven years of age. He had short hair, a dirty shirt, and a frail physique. He held roses in one hand and itched his hair with the other. Looking at us looking at him, he neared us. “Please give me money, I need to eat” he said. I offered him the orange I was eating. He refused and insisted on having money only. “I can only offer you what I have,” I said and offered him the orange again. He refused yet again but silently sat near us.

“Don’t you go to school?” I asked him. “I do!” he lied. “Really? What are you doing here, then?” I asked him. “I don’t go every day…” he said. “I go occasionally.” “Do your parents know you bunk school often?” I asked. He shook his head as he swung his legs. “My mother doesn’t know. I give her the money I earn and lie to her about how I got it. She doesn’t know I do this.” he said. “And your father?” I asked, getting curious. “He fell from a train on our way to our village. The TT never stopped the train.” he fell silent. For a while, all of us only heard all of us breathe.

“You should go to school, you know?” my friend said, breaking the silence. “Why?” he asked. “Well, you will learn a lot about the world. You will be better placed. You’ll get into a good college and you’ll have a job.” I said. “But I am still earning” he reasoned. “I want to open a tea-stall or something when I grow up. What is the point of studying?” he asked. I did not know what to say. “But you’ll become a better person!” my friend said. “Education aids you in becoming a better person.”

He looked at us and then looked out towards the students smoking nearby. “A better person?” he asked. “What good has education done to you when all of you come here and smoke and drink?” he asked innocently. For a moment he didn’t seem like a small boy. “It is a terrible way of ruining your body. Why would you want to do that?” I looked at him and didn’t know what to say. I had thought of the exact same question a million times before, but here, having it come from this little child’s mouth, it felt more real than ever before. What good was education?

“It is indeed a terrible thing. I am so proud of you for understanding so. Do not fall into this trap.” I told him. “I once asked a bhaiya why he was smoking” he said. “The bhaiya slapped me and asked me to leave.” “Oh people do things when they are intoxicated.” my friend said. “Should I go and ask that bhaiya to not smoke?” he asked, pointing towards a young man lighting his cigarette at a little distance from us. “You should.” we encouraged him. He smiled and hopped towards the man. We saw him saying something to the man. The young man was obviously unmoved and did not make an effort to acknowledge the boy’s presence. He turned around, tilted his head, and looked at us disappointed. “It is okay!” we gestured to him from the car.

He came back to us, told us he needed to leave, and bid us goodbye. He made a last attempt at asking us for money, and when we refused, he smiled, waved, and left. Our driver had come back and he started the car. I looked outside of the window as the car moved forward, leaving the huge campus behind. I looked at the college buildings sprinting behind us. “What good is your education?” his words echoed in my mind.


This was originally published on buzz.universitytimes.in