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Children at work
Before you read
There are many reasons why children have to work. Some help their family make a livelihood. Others, who run away from unhappy homes, need to support themselves. Children who have to work can’t go to school and play like other children of their age.
• Velu, an eleven-year old boy, runs away from home.
• He wanders around for hours before getting on a train to Chennai without a ticket.
• Tired and hungry, he doesn’t know where to go when a stranger at the station shouts a word of welcome.
WHEN the Kanyakumari Express pulled in at Chennai Central, it took Velu some time to get off. When he finally stood on the platform, his legs felt wobbly, as if he was still on a moving train. “Oy, out of the way!” A porter went by with a loaded trolley. Velu jumped aside.
He sat on a bench on the platform, putting his small bundle down. In all his eleven years, he had never seen so many people, except once a year at the fair in his village. People walked by, bumping into him with their suitcases. A voice announced something on a loudspeaker. Near him a group of people sat on their luggage, looking at a TV hanging from the roof. The noise was terrible.
Velu put his head down on his knees, feeling miserable and exhausted. He had run away from his village two days ago. For two days he had eaten nothing but some peanuts and a piece of jaggery. In his bundle he carried a shirt, a towel and a comb.
He had walked for most of the first day to Kanur and then got on the train to Chennai. Velu had no money for a ticket but luckily the ticket collector didn’t come to the unreserved compartment. He hadtried to sleep on the floor near the door. A group of men next to himhad played cards and shouted all night. “Aiy! What, new to town eh?” called out a rough voice. Velu opened his eyes. There were a lot of people standing around, but nobody was looking at him. “Here! Aiy!”
He turned around. Behind him was a girl around his own age, wearing a long banian that came down to her knees. Her hair was stiff and brownish and she had a huge sack on one shoulder. She was picking up dirty plastic cups from the floor and stuffing them into her sack. Why is she calling me, thought Velu. And why is a girl wearing a banian? “No need to stare stupidly. What’s your name?” “Velu,” muttered Velu, looking away. “So Mr Velu,” said the girl, looking at his bundle. “Run away from home?” Velu didn’t answer. He didn’t want to tell some strange girl what he had done. He had run away because he couldn’t stand his fathebeating him for one more day. His father would snatch away all themoney Velu and his sisters earned and spend it on drink.“Don’t think I don’t know. This place is full of children like you. So what are you going to do here? Become rich?” She sat down next to him. Velu shifted away slightly. He felt hunger pinching him and pressed his stomach with a grimace. “Hungry?” asked the girl. “You won’t get food by sitting here glumly, making faces. I can find some if you want.” She picked up her sack and started to walk away. Velu stayed on the bench. What should he do? Should he follow this girl? Where was she going to take him? She was disappearing into the crowd, so he had to make up his mind quickly. Alright, he decided. Anyway I have no idea where to go. He jumped up and ran after her. She wasn’t even looking back to see where he was.
1. Velu stood on the platform but he felt “as if he was still on a moving train”. Why?
2. What made him feel miserable?
3. (i) Velu travelled without a ticket. Why?
(ii) How did he escape the ticket collector’s attention?
4. Why had Velu run away from home?
5. Why did he decide to follow the ‘strange’ girl?
• Velu follows his friend through the crowded streets to a big building.
• Behind the building, there is a big garbage bin.
• Velu wonders why they are there at all.
He caught up with the girl as she was leaving the station. When they got to the road, Velu found that the vehicles kept coming an never stopped for anyone. Smoke and dust flew at him from all sides, making his head spin. They had to wait for a long time before they could find a gap to run through. Velu kept hesitating and the girl finally dragged him to the other side.
“What do you think you’re doing? Grazing cows? If you stand around in the middle of the road like that, you’ll be chutney.” Velu’s heart was still beating fast. He looked back at Central Station and the traffic speeding by. How had they managed to come through that? They walked along the side of the road under some making his huge signboards. Velu looked up at the pictures: banians, car tyres, pens, a woman holding a box. The writing was all in English, so he didn’t know what it meant.
The girl turned onto a wide bridge and walked up. Velu stopped and peeped over the railing. Under him, the road ran into the city. In the distance he could see huge buildings and towers and more roads. “See that big building with the wall around it? If you’re not careful, you’ll soon be counting bars there.” The girl grinned and pointed at a huge building.
Velu squinted and read the Tamil sign, Central Jail. “Why? I haven’t done anything wrong.” “You don’t have to do anything. Just don’t get caught, that’s all.” What does she mean, Velu wondered. Meanwhile the girl was already heading down the bridge with the sack on her shoulder. What was in it? He had seen her putting plastic cups into it at the station. “What are you carrying in that bag?” “Things. Bottles, paper.” Velu wondered what she was doing with them, but he felt shy to ask any more questions.
It was still morning but the sun blasted down on the tar and Velu’s bare feet burned. It was not like walking on a mud road. He was soaked with sweat. He tried hard to walk in the shade and keep up with the girl at the same time. She walked really fast. How far away was the food?
After almost an hour of walking, they stopped in front of a big building. Sri Rajarajeshwari Prasanna Kalyana Mandapam read Velu slowly. A sign with letters made of flowers said, Groom: J. V. Vinayagan, Bride: Rani. Velu stared at the big cars parked outside. One of the cars had a flower garland and roses taped onto it. The girl looked around, pulled one off quickly and stuck it in her hair. “Come on,” she said. “Are we going to eat here?” asked Velu, looking at the huge hall and the people inside. “Hopes!” said the girl shaking her thumb under his nose. She led him behind the hall. There was a big garbage bin overflowing with rubbish. Two goats were standing on the pile, fighting for a banana leaf. A cloud of flies buzzed around their legs. There was a rotten smell in the air. The girl picked up a squashy banana andheld it out to Velu. “Here’s your food.”
Velu was shocked. “Are we going to eat their leftovers?” “Chey! What do you think I am? A dog? I only take untouched food. Here, some more, catch!” She threw him a vada. Velu looked at it with distaste.
1. Can Velu read Tamil and English? How do you know?
2. “If you are not careful, you will soon be counting bars there,” the girl said.
(i) What is she referring to?
(ii) What does she mean when she says “If you are not careful...”?
(She says something a little later which means the same. Find that sentence.)
3. (i) Where did the girl lead Velu to?
(ii) What did they get to eat?
4. What work did she do? Think of a one-word answer.
Please refer to attached file for NCERT Class 8 English Children at work