For Shivakumar Nagaiah, the Government Children’s Home for Boys in Bangalore is a place filled with nostalgia.
Sitting on the corner of the bench at the home on Hosur Road, the 18-year-old said: “I remember sitting here as a rescued child labourer, and today, I’m here with my mentors, discussing studies and a career.”
The story of Shivakumar, who hails from Maindargi on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border in Solapur district, inspires even the most jaded of souls.
He lost his vision as a child of five when he fell off a building. He was barely 10 when his mother died in a kitchen fire. His alcoholic father remarried. From then on, life was an endless battle. Like other boys in his village, he fled his home.
“It was on June 14 in 2007 that I ran away. Children in my village routinely ran away to earn money. But I just wanted to run away from my alcoholic father and my stepmother.”
Then a Class 5 dropout, Shivakumar boarded a train to Bangalore. For over a year, he packed food for railway passengers. “I would pack food all day in return for food till a friend told me about a job that would fetch money.”
His friend took him to Hubli and both started off as hotel hands. “We sat in a small room and washed vessels for hours. Even if our hands ached, our employer forced us to continue.”
Fed up, he took a train back to Bangalore and worked in a hotel near the City Railway Station for Rs. 500 a month. “I used to spend Rs. 150 getting a high on whitener.”
Just as he was settling down to his “new” life, he was rescued in a joint operation by the government and an NGO in 2008.
He was sent to the boys’ home and arrangements were being made to send him back home when life took another turn: he was diagnosed with a heart ailment and underwent open heart surgery at Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research in December 2008.
Shivakumar was then despatched to his village where his maternal uncle coerced him to work in his liquor shop. “It was exhausting and painful but he paid me Rs. 100 daily.”
He was routinely beaten up by drunken clients.
He ran away yet again in March, 2012, to the boys’ home in Bangalore, the only place where he had got some care and attention. “This time I did not want money, I only wanted some affection.”
The home’s superintendent, Rajendra Prasad, enrolled him in an SSLC correspondence course. “He is visually challenged, but it is remarkable how he never asks for any concessions for that reason. He has grown stronger with every trauma,” says Mr. Prasad.
SSLC first class
It was not easy. During his lost childhood, Shivakumar had even forgotten the alphabet and numbers. But he persisted, taking lessons from volunteers who taught him Braille and read out lessons. He passed SSLC with a first class in 2013.
He now aspires to become a chartered accountant. He knows it is not easy and hopes someone somewhere will help him out.
“I want to go back to my village as a successful person and ensure children stop fleeing their houses in search of work. No child should be made to work. They miss out on playing, studying and having fun. Those are days that never come back.”