THE GOLDEN LADDER
THE GOLDEN LADDER6 mins 367 6 mins 367
“Bittu, What are you doing at the window? Come on; draw the curtain and go off to sleep”, Shanti said to the six year old.
“Maa, what is beyond those clouds, up there, in the sky?”, Bittu asked in an innocent voice.
Shanti said with a smile, “Oh ! So that’s what my dear son wonders everyday?”.
It was not uncommon for Shanti to see Bittu gaze at the blue sky. Day or night, Bittu always smiled at the sky. No matter how fierce the sun stared back at him, he would smile back with confidence, as if he was making a promise to Him.
Shanti, who was now worried about the late hours of night, spoke calmly, “Beyond the clouds! There is a bright sun, the beautiful moon, lots of shining stars; everything beautiful that you can imagine!”. A barely literate Shanti used the best of her knowledge to teach her son something worth.
“Maa, I want to go to the sky. I want to see all the beautiful things there. I want to see how people look from the sky. They must be looking very tiny, isn’t it? I want to reach the top Maa, above this world. There, Up There!” Bittu spoke with affirmation. “Maa, how can I reach the top? I am too small right now. Is there any way to go up there?”
“Of course my love, you need to find a ladder for yourself. Then you can climb it, slowly, steadily, carefully; and one day you would be at the top”, Shanti said, knowing that this is a mere conversation. No matter how much a woman is aware of the reality of her life, the mother inside her never fails to create a Fantasy World for her tiny one. She always aims to give him hope of a better future. Shanti was doing the same.
It had been four years since Bittu’s father fell off the 12th floor of the construction site where he worked as a mason. How easily the contractor ignored Shanti after her husband’s death, was something she frequently thought off and grinded her teeth in anger. With absolutely no money in hand and a two year old Bittu in her arms, Shanti had lost all hopes of survival. Thanks to Ram Bhai from the neighbourhood who employed her in a fabric company nearby and promised to take care of Bittu all day long. Shanti would work for lengthy hours to make as much money as possible, while Bittu played all day long at Ram Bhai’s tea stall. Ram Bhai ensured Bittu doesn’t wander away. As Bittu grew up, he became very fond of his dear ‘Ram Chacha’, a father figure to him and voluntarily assisted him with the errands at the stall. Picking up used glasses and plates, cleaning the tables with a rag, were some of the chores the six year old had mastered. Ironically, Bittu always thought that’s what children of his age do. He took pride in handing over the coins to his Chacha which he received as tip. Sometimes his innocence also helped him earn a candy or biscuit from the customers. Bittu and Shanti’s lives went on, but gradually Bittu was realizing that the world ‘beyond’ is much more beautiful. He did want to reach there but he did not know ‘How’.
“I will get myself a Golden Ladder, Maa”, Bittu screamed in excitement. Fearing the neighbours in the slum would awaken; Shanti calmed him down and said, “Sure my son. One day you will definitely get yourself a Golden Ladder, and then you can reach the top”. The two went to bed; Shanti with eyes full of tears and Bittu with eyes full of dreams; visualizing the Golden Ladder and himself atop.
The next morning was something different. It was as if a falling star had heard the little boy’s wish and had perished in the darkness of the Universe only to fulfill it. A rich businessman crossing Ram Bhai’s tea stall couldn’t help noticing the tiny Bittu cleaning a table’s mess. He immediately stopped his expensive car and summoned Ram Bhai. All the people gathered around to witness the scene as the businessman shouted words of abuse at Ram Bhai for promoting child labour. “I will take you to the police. You make a six year old work. Don’t you know he is supposed to attend a school at this age?”, the man shouted. The word reached Shanti and she ran to the site to save Ram Bhai from the hurling words of the man. Together Shanti and Ram Bhai convinced him that Ram Bhai is just Bittu’s caretaker and not his employer. Bittu just tries to help his ‘Chacha’ with his sincere efforts at doing the chores. The rich man was pacified when Bittu also cried and appealed in favour of his Ram Chacha.
The rich man then spoke to Shanti, “What kind of life are you giving your son? Is this how you want him to live all his life?”. Shanti sobbed as she narrated the story of her poverty and stated the fact that she is still glad at least she manages to feed her son twice a day. The rich man’s heart broke. He insisted he would adopt Bittu and give him a better life. But Shanti wasn’t convinced at all, “Sir, please don’t take my son away. He is all I have. I beg of you”. The rich man spoke, “Is there anything I can do for you two? Will some money help?”.
Shanti spoke with confidence this time, “Sir, if you really want to do something for Bittu, could you please enroll him in some good school? I have no money to pay his fees and I cannot afford his books or uniform”.
The rich man said happily, “Why not! I would love to do that. I will take care of Bittu’s admission and pay his school fees each year. Do not worry about him anymore.”
The rich man kept his promise. Soon Shanti’s tiny room was decked with school books, school bag, a pair of uniform and stationery. Bittu was delighted to have all of them. His schooling began and Bittu entered a totally different world. He read stories, recited poetry, drew pictures, solved the math, explored science and successfully appeared for the annual exam after a year.
His marks sheet and report card was much more valuable to Shanti than any other thing in their one-room house in the slum. Bittu was quite intelligent and had been praised by his teachers from time to time.
That day, now seven year old Bittu said, “Maa, if I pass every exam like this, I will surely be able to get my Golden Ladder soon. After all, I have to reach the sky, I have to be on the top, Isn’t it?”
Shanti laughed and said, “You still remember the Golden Ladder? You still want it?”.
Bittu said, “Yes, of course Maa, I do”.
Shanti pulled her son close to her heart. Her voice was heavy, her eyes were damp, she spoke with eternal satisfaction, “My love, you have already got your Golden Ladder; it’s just that you haven’t recognized it yet. It has been with you since a year and will always be with you; and I am extremely happy to see you climb it slowly, steadily, carefully and above all passionately. It is ‘EDUCATION’ ”.