Like any 13-year-old, Subroto Mondol, aka Pocha, loves to fly kites and is an avid fan of Hindi film songs. But he does not get much time to indulge in his favourite pastimes.
For, he has to spend 10-12 hours at a roadside tea stall near Garia in south Kolkata, catering to hundreds of customers every day.
And in lieu of that, he gets only Rs 200 a month, a pair of trousers and a shirt, and four meals daily.
They are naturally not enough for the hard work that he puts in every day. However, at this early age, he has learnt to take things in his stride.
"My parents are too poor. They also work as labourers at our village home. They ran into huge debts after marrying my sisters off. Hence I had to venture out for a job that would take care of my daily needs. Some friends introduced me to this tea stall owner a few years back," he says.
His father works at a local hotel and his mother makes a living out of her job as a housemaid in the vicinity. Pocha's day starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 11 p.m. In between, he gets a three-hour break in the afternoon.
Pocha studied till Class III but confesses that he never liked studying too much. "It bored me. I wanted to sing and listen to music instead."
His job being an exhaustive one, he hardly finds any leisure but whenever he gets a chance he switches on to the FM radio and catches up on any new Hindi film number.
"Wish I had an iPod. For someone as poor as me, it is ludicrous even to dream of having one. It is so very expensive," he smiles the tell-tale smile, nodding his head as if making fun of his own illogical thoughts.
In between our interaction, he never forgets his customers, getting them just what they ask for -- tea without milk, well-buttered bread, crispy biscuits, et al.
He also washes the cups and plates that the customers leave behind at the tap right next to the tea-stall.
Just then someone, a local businessman, a familiar face it seems, approaches the stall riding a motorcycle. He calls Pocha by his name and asks for black tea. The 13-year-old pauses for a while and then rushes to fetch a cup.
As the older guy sips his drink, Pocha mumbles cautiously, "Since my childhood, I always dreamt of owning a bike. But with the kind of money that I earn, even a dream seems to be a luxury."
Image: Subroto Mondol. | Photograph: Dipak Chakraborty