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Poverty has killed all dreams in this young heart

Insiyah Vahanvaty | January 23, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire [Images] has received tremendous international recognition and highlighted Mumbai's [Images] underbelly. While some hail it as a grand endorsement for the city, others think of it as a sorry stereotype. correspondents met children in India's slums to find out what life really means for them.

Kiran Birju Vaghela, 17, was squatting on the promenade, watching the tide go out. He turned lazily and looked disinterestedly with his dark, passionless eyes.

Kiran was born in Mumbai and lost his mother to an illness when he was seven years old. Since then, he and his elder brother have been doing odd jobs to support themselves and their father. They live on the pavement between Carter Road and Khar Danda in north-west Mumbai, which separates a prosperous enclave from a fisherman's colony.

"Humara baap kuchh nahi karta, daru peeke pada rehta hai. Aur khaata hai.(Our father doesn't do anything -- he drinks, eats and sleeps)," says Kiran, a spark of anger flashing in his eyes.

The brothers had to give up their education after their mother's death to become the family's breadwinners. Kiran works as a helper with a caterer who organises weddings, but hardly earns enough to sustain his family.

His brother also works with the same caterer. However, they don't have a fixed income -- what they earn depends on the number of catering contracts, and as and when they are needed. Often, when work is difficult to come by, Kiran says his brother and he have to forego dinner in order to provide for their father's demands for alcohol.

Kiran does not have any big dreams of his own. "Kya kar sakte hain? Kuchh bhi. Ghar mein kaam mil jaaye to achha rahega. Ab padhe nahin hain, to kya sapne dekenge? (What can I do? If I find work in someone's house, it will be nice. Since I haven't studied, what dreams can I have?)"

While he does feel that being uneducated has ruined his chances of making a better life, Kiran believes it is too late now and doesn't indulge in either self-pity or regret. His focus is to get from one day to the next. Between his job and his father's condition, there is no place left for dreams and hopes in this young heart.

Despite the hard life, Kiran makes time for his one passion -- the movies. He just saw Chandni Chowk to China [Images], which he says he enjoyed very much.

As the sun sets, Kiran leans against a parked autorickshaw and looks out towards the sea. I don't know what he sees, but once can hope there's a dream locked away in those young eyes, and that the big bad world hasn't killed his spirit completely.

Kiran Birju Vaghela
C/o Kanchan Vaghela
Danda Shopping Centre
General Chemist and Druggist
3, Dev-Ashish Building
C D Marg
Danda, Khar West, Mumbai 400052

Text: Insiyah Vahanvaty; Photograph: Satish Bodas

Earlier in the series:

  • The car-washer who wants to play for India
  • Born on the road, she aims for Miss India
  • 'I'm 15 and have seen all the ugly faces of poverty'
  • He gets paid only 10 paise per shoe
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