At the young age of 7, Raju was already working longer hours than those in a 9 to 5 job. Blame it on having no parents or the classic old ‘circumstances’, Raju was forced to grow up while kids his age were still choosing between different colour pencil boxes. But unlike most of us, Raju had made peace with his work. He had to.
His shift began at 1 pm in the afternoon and went on till 1 am in the morning. He’d get in at one station, recite his 12-line script on ‘Wonder pens’ loud enough for the entire compartment to hear, walk through it hoping someone would buy 1 (or 2) and then get off at the next stop. The trick was simple. Be mature and even the average commuter takes you seriously. The innocence and blue eyes were an added bonus.
Nobody bought just one pen. Everyone took five or more. And priced at rupee one each, five bucks didn’t seem hard for the second class traveler to spend. Raju always met his targets. So his employer allowed him to take breaks during the shift. Raju was happy with these perks. It made him feel like he was his own boss.
Raju didn’t know many kids. The few he did, weren’t really his age. And he’d see them spending most of their time in Vishnu Video Game Parlour outside Santacruz station. A place where he wasn’t allowed to enter because of his height. But he tried peeping in once. And a boy then told him that it was like 'a Las Vegas casino, but only smaller and shadier'. So Raju moved on to older friends. He now knew Geeta who was a 26 something teacher in a government school and loved dressing up. She often pulled his cheeks after buying her share. Harkishan, a 35-year-old peon whose boss had caught a fancy for Wonder pens. And Meera, the eunuch, who Raju treated like a mother because she always fed him when they met.
But Raju was the happiest when his shift ended. When he’d collect his money for the day’s work and travel to a station of his choice to sleep on. He’d get into the empty first-class compartment and sit near a window. Then placing his feet on the opposite seat, he’d let the cool breeze hit his face. “Someday,” he’d often think to himself staring at the passing sights, “Someday, I’ll be rich enough to buy a train.”