Normally I have to force myself to write my blog, but today I feel compelled to do so.
I woke this morning to the disturbing picture in the papers, of a 14 year old housemaid in a TV stars home, who was battered by the starlet for having eaten some shrikhand from her refridgerator without taking her permission.
I have been watching some discussions on Television about the same thing, where eminent folk have been talking about this curse upon so many children in our country, but have yet found no solutions.
Should children be allowed to work? Should parents who send their children out to work like this be prosecuted? What is the way out of this evil?
There are no answers.
In a poor country like India, where education and health care is not something that covers each and every individual, there is no option but for children to work and earn for their own livelihood because otherwise, this nation leaves them to die.
The poor young girl who was beaten by her mistress who was obviously no less than a brute. It made me feel disgusted. Disgusted enough to tell something that I have never really written about till date.
I have never written about the four young boy children who worked in my company Tracinema when it was at its peak.
I have never spoken about Loku, Vishnu, Inder and Anil because right until now they were growing up and making their lives.
Today, I feel comfortable telling their stories because the four of them have conquered such heights within themselves, that there is no way that my account of their lives will in anyway give any one of them the feeling that I am taking away from their achievements.
And much more than that, I'm speaking because it is a time that their story be told.
It was way back in the early nineties, when there was a boy at my door asking for work. He was a Nepalese, barely 10 years old, red cheeked, curly haired boy with round soulful eyes asking me to give him a job. He looked like one of the characters from Russian stories which I used to read a lot in those times.
I asked him who had sent him to me and he told me that my buildings watchman had asked him to go door to door to find himself a job. The boy could not speak a word of Hindi and that was all I could gather from his Nepalese speech. I sent my maid to call the watchman to my house.
The watchman was his uncle who had brought him from a remote village in Nepal but had no place to keep him in Bombay. The boy had arrived that morning and had spent the whole day looking for a job which would give him a place to sleep.
It was late on a Sunday evening by now.
The building watchman told me that although the boy did not know housework, he would learn fast and do anything I asked him to.
I asked this most beautiful looking child what his name was, and he said, Loknath Pandey. I told him he could stay in my house.
The next morning when I was ready to leave for my shoot at filmcity, my cook cum housekeeper looked at me and asked me what she should do with the boy. She informed me that he had been weeping all night and she had to ask him to sleep in the same room as her because he was terrified.
Ten year old Loknath Pandey was bathed and ready by then and I asked him to accompany me.
On my sets, where I was the director of a television show, he kept following me around the whole day, so I gave him the duty to carry my files for me.
This went on for days, then weeks and finally months.
An year into his life with me, Loku could speak broken Hindi and had become the manager of all my files and trivia which I would carry to work and bring back, having quickly learnt to manage the episodic scripts for shooting, then editing and finally putting them away in archives.
The rest of my unit gave him a lot of importance because Loku would get to the sets with me and go back home, which was also his house now, with me. Besides he was so cute that he was irresistible and everyone, from the actors to the crew would want to pull his cheeks and hug him all the while.
Then there was this boy Inder, the only other child working on my set who was about Loku's age and was employed by the production staff to serve tea to the crew. He was a long and lanky, extremely wise looking Bihari boy. He would look at Loku all the time and one day when he was giving me a cuppa, I noticed him staring at Loku who was busy prancing around me.
I asked him where he lived and he said he slept at the studio as he had no home in the city. I asked him to accompany me home after pack up that evening and told my staff not to employ children who were below the age of eighteen henceforth. We already had another boy called Anil working and living in our office, who was a little older than these two. Anil by then had requested me to promote him to Loku's position with my business partner at the time, Raman, who was directing another two shows which our company was producing. We had agreed to do that, so he was now the Manager of all the filing for the show 'Tara' which was a super hit in that period of time.
Inder moved in with me as well, much to my housekeepers despair, yet she treated both the boys with a lot of care, ensuring they were hygienic, wore clean clothes and were well fed. It was a small house I lived in then, and it became too crowded for me, so I moved into a bigger appartment where these two boys who were living and working with me, and who were like my shadow, could have a room as well as beds to sleep on.
One day Loku came to me with a request.
Now his speech was a mix of Hindi and English in a Nepalese accent. He told me that he had a brother called Vishnu who was an year older to him and who worked in Lukhnow. He said that Vishnu was unwell and if I'd permit, he would ask him to come to Bombay and stay with us for a few days.
I could never get myself to say no to anything when it came to Loku. He was well mannered, deciplined, loyal and quick on the take when it came to learning.
His brother arrived within a week.
Vishnu was an epileptic child and had been shifting jobs almost every month because as and when he got fits, his employers would get terrified and ask him to leave. He was frail and soft spoken and he was scared. All this I discovered after he got an epileptic fit while he was in my house. We got him treated and neither has he had a fit since, nor did he return to Lukhnow because he stayed with me thereon.
Now my house which was close to my office was more or less a hostel for these boys by night, and a creative office for me by day, because I had stopped directing and had started to focus on writing more. I had other writers working with me at my house through the day, because we had a lot many more TV shows being produced by my company by then.
The boys would leave for shootings early in the morning in the production cars, where they were now assisting other directors hired by the company. Vishnu couldn't keep up with the hectic pace of shooting because of his health, so I got him to start working as an assistant to the editors.
They would all come back at different times, and tell me excitedly about their work. Anil, who was an assistant director in the big bossed team by now, was their role model, because he was sharp, astute and on fire when it came to work. He had also moved into my house from the office, with the other three boys pretty soon, and inspired Loku, Inder and Vishnu to push themselves beyond their capabilities.
One day I overheard Anil telling the rest of the boys, and this was into the third year since Loku has arrived at my doorstep, that he wished he knew English. He was telling them that if he could, he would be at the level of a chief assistant. The only reason he can't be the chief is that the actors are not ready to deal with him because he cannot speak English fluently.
I employed an English teacher for the boys the next day.
Loku and Inder were roughly 15 years old, Vishnu 16 and Anil was about 18. The teacher would arrive at my place at 6am, teach the boys to speak, read and write English for two hours, till 8am, and then the boys would leave for their respective shoots.
Within an year, all four of them were transformed.
Anil was a dude. Loku, Inder and Vishnu were simpler versions of Anil but dynamite. They were doing so well at work and getting along with English so fast because they were like sponges soaking in everything with such ease.
They would party with me and my friends and life went on.
Anil fell in love with Vandana, who was an associate writer with me at the time, later went on to become one of Televisions finest writers, and moved out on his own. He was earning very well by then.
I moved into an even bigger house because I had adopted my Ritchelle by then, who was 10 years old when she came to me. (Hers is a remarkable story I will tell another time).
Loku, Inder and Vishnu stayed with me for another couple of years till all of them had turned 18, and then I let them go into an independent dwelling which was watched over by me regularly for some more time.
All of them continued to learn English for years later even after my company had downed it shutters and they were working for other production houses in Bombay.
Anil, had Vandana to guide him and Loku, Inder and Vishnu was guided by their second teacher Darshana, who had stopped taking money from me to teach them.
For years later, even if they were too exhausted and busy to attend class with her at 6am in the morning, because that was the only time possible if ever, she would insist that they should call her at whatever time in the day or night they got, to speak with her in English for at least 15 minutes a day. And the boys did it dutifully because they were hungry for the ability to be one with the successful world.
Anil went on to direct some of the top rated shows on Television including Kyunki... and Kahani..., and can be easily rated amongst the top 10 directors on Television today. Happily married to Vandana, they have three children.
Loku is director of top rated Mata ki chowki on Sahara TV, and Inder was directing the show Dulhan on Zee TV until recently.
Vishnu is a full fledged editor and works on some of the best shows on TV.
All four boys live in appartments bought by themselves with their own savings and dream now of making holiday homes in places outside Bombay.
I am telling their story because everyone needs to hear it.
There are numerous such stories of children, in the film and television industry alone, coming from where Anil, Loku, Inder and Vishnu did, who have made it too.
I admit, that I must have overdone it, but I had the blessings of God on me, who had given me so much, that I was able to do what I did. Some detractors would make a dig at me and ask me if I thought I was God, and I would only smile and think to myself that I was only doing what every person should be doing. It was all coming so easy because the fire in the kids was enabling me to provide them with certain things.
For the boys were so driven and so grateful for what had been destined for them, that they didn't waste a single day, an hour, a minute and never took even a second of their lives for granted.
If each person or even family were to take it upon themselves to give one child an opportunity of which he/she can make a life, the problem of child labor and brutality towards children would end in no time.
Institutionalizing and pontificating can never be the solution for something which can only be done when everyone collectively is sensitized to the issue. It has to part of the curriculum in school for children as they grow up to learn to do something for those who are not as fortunate as they are. It is upon touching the collective conscience of the whole nation through a program or appeal which can alter the way people treat children in general. Only then will society gain at large and acts like these will cease to occur.
The picture of the battered 14 year old should be published in the papers everyday, for it to haunt us and force us to do something about it.