Prabhu is 10. He is standing with his shoe-polish box, in a corner at Connaught Place.
He says: Can I polish your slippers?
I say: You won’t spoil the sole, will you?
He says: No.
I slip off the slippers. He gives me 2 rubber soles to stand on. I volley a rapid fire session of questions at his head, which would have been snubbed instantly by Dhanno if she were at the receiving end. But Prabhu is kinder.
I say: Where do you come from?
He says: Dwarka.
I say: Did you come with your parents?
He says: No, I come alone. On the Metro.
I say: Every day?
He says: Yes.
I say: How much does the ticket cost you?
He says: 22 rupees.
I say: Is that affordable? How much do you make every day?
He says: 200-300 rupees.
I say: What do you do with the money?
He says: I take it home, give it to my parents.
I say: Sachch? Ya jhooth?
He says: Sachch.
I say: Do you have to give anything to the police?
He looks up, surprised.
He says: Police? For what?
I feel a surge of happiness at his genuine surprise.
I say: To sit here?
He says: No, in fact, they say to me, you sit here.
I say: What does your father do?
He says: The same.
I say: Is he around here?
He says: No, he works at Tilak Nagar.
I say: And brothers and sisters?
He says: They are at home.
I say: Do they go to school?
He says: No. They don’t go to school. I go to school.
I say: Really. What class are you in?
He says: Class?
I say: Yes, what class are you in?
He says: Madam teaches us. At … (I have forgotten the name.)
I say: What do you like learning? Reading stories or maths?
He says: Maths?
I say: You like Maths.
I hand him a 10 rupee note. He smiles.
He says: It costs 20 rupees, Madam.
I say: Oh, OK.
He says: Wait, I still have to polish them.
When he finishes, I hand him 30 rupees.
I say: 20 rupees for your work, 10 rupees specially for you from me.