It was an older Hindi song that drew my attention to him. His bony knee was drawn up close to his chest, the other leg out-stretched; the pale sole of his foot faced the walking colours. He couldn't have been much older than 15, yet when he lifted his thin frame from the dusted ground, his height seemed to challenge that. Crouching once again, he held a small wooden shape, which would eventually become the back-drop for a figure of a Hindi god, to be bought by a family for private devotions, by a shop-owner hoping for blessings, or taken to many of the small shrines lining the alleyways that smell of incense.
I watched as his hands found their way into a tin-can of glue - the gluggy, booger textured stuff you used in primary school - and smeared his catch across shredded pages torn from books. The soggy paper was adhered to the wood, smoothed out with long, skinny fingers, before the hand was submerged again into the gloop. He worked quickly, and it became apparent that the man beside him was not just his colleague, but his father, someone who would have been doing the same thing as his son from the time he was of the same age; the boy's agility was a skill, a 'career', chosen for him before birth.
He continued this paper mache process quietly and with little effort; the shade created by a make-shift awning backed against a public women's toilet cubicle, kept him cool, but it was the gentle morning rain that kept the atmosphere an easier temperature. I attempted to find a pattern in the people that caused his eyes to momentarily flicker up and away from his hands, yet neither woman or man, lower or upper caste, barefooted peddler or rickshaw puller, bright sari or checked lungi, seemed to hold priority to his darting glances.
As uneven edges were smoothed, and the last few pieces of paper rubbed into place, the boy placed his creation down, with little to no emotional attachment to the work he had just completed, and stretched his long limbs out as he stood once again. Turning slowly he looked around him, as if a trance had been broken, and he had only just realised his surroundings - in the state you might find yourself, post-afternoon nap. Then just like that, he gave his crotch a decent scratch (something that seems to be a common pass-time here amongst the locals), and his legs carried him out of view, leaving the future idol to dry, and me to wonder at all I had just seen.
To a 'Westerner', being born into a profession seems like something that your father's father might have encountered, yet here it is seems to be a priviledge, or at least an expectation/right of path to take on your father's profession as your own. Often I see small boys already beginning to take on small roles in the functioning of a family business, or of young girls carrying heavy buckets of water and squatting next to their mothers and older sisters to cook rice ready for the next meal.
How easy we have it in our clean, care-free, adolescent lives in our First-World culture.
If the children had shoes we could step into, I am sure we would all have a completely different outlook on our privileged up-bringing.
Of course I am not in anyway ungrateful for how I have been bought up, I just think that barrier between knowing about poverty (yet blissfully carrying on in our little bubbles), and acknowledging its existence (and in response walking a tiny bit more humbled), needs a good knock or two.
Let that rattle your brain for a while.