Saturday, 6 October 2018

Persona Non Grata: Borrowed Life

In the hostel where the all the kids rescued that day were put up, Chotey slipped in an out of his mask as Ahmed like a phantom. One moment he was Chotey, and in the other when they were distributing food or any other item for personal use, he was Ahmed.

It is there that he learnt the use of identities and the meaning of a borrowed life. Or borrowed lives. He saw it happen far too often in the 90-day time that he spent there. The day an official with a cavalcade was scheduled to arrive at the orphanage, he would hear his friends being given and called out by those names. Official sounding names. Rohit, Amit, Rohan, Deepti and the likes. On the next visit, these names would be interchanged. So a Rohit would be Rohan on a Sunday and Amit on the next Tuesday when the ever smiling lady came bearing sweets.

For 90 days, Chotey became Ahmed and Ahmed became Chotey depending on who was needed when. It was in those 90 days that he learnt the importance of having names. He understood why a name was much more than just syllables.

His parents had never bothered to name him. They just called him Chotey because he was the smallest kid in the family. Even after all his elder siblings succumbed to the poor people's diseases, and Chotey had graduated to become the eldest, he was still Chotey.

Sitting on the roadside hotel where he worked, Chotey now realized that he had no use for the dual borrowed identity. He had to fend for himself in the world and it was about time that accepted that truth. And thus, he stopped protesting when people called him names. Chotey, Ahmed, Chotu, Oye. Just about anything worked as long as he got food and a his 6 hours of sleep.

How he landed work there at that roadside eatery was a mystery for everyone. Everyone but for Chotey and the owner of the eatery. After the kids were rescued, the ever smiling lady who often came with sweets came up with a plan this time. She made some presentation or some such which explained how the kids would study in a boarding school she planned to start. Approvals were given in blink and off they went to the new building, far away from the orphanage.

The first month at the new school felt like heaven. Heaven, which his father often talked about must be somewhat like the school, Chotey thought. He was jealous of his father for never having taken him to heaven despite coming home and telling his son everyday that alcohol was heaven. Like alcohol, the trouble at the school started one year later. It was the girls that disappeared first. And then then good looking boys. No one knew where they had gone. But everyone was told they had been sent across India to better schools. To better homes. 

Chotey did not want to go to a better home or school. It helped that he was ugly. Life had moved him enough, from his village, to the city, to the orphanage, the boarding school and now most likely to that dhaba. All the ugly children were sold as helpers to such roadside eateries. Chotey might have been ugly, but he was lucky. The dhaba owner promised to do right by him and he had in the last nine years stuck to most of his words. Including keeping Chotey's identity secret. Though the kid was living a borrowed life, at least it was borrowed from the right man. A righteous man.

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