Outside a convenience store in New Delhi, a boy not more than 12 years old sells balloons at Rs. 5 apiece at 12 in the night. Every time he sees a car pull over he dashes off, with a handful of balloons and a mouthful of saleable words. It’s an odd time to sell balloons. Most people who visit this convenience store past midnight are either too tired from the day or too excited about the night. Yet the boy lingers, in his scruffy clothes and dreamy eyes. Quite often he is accompanied by his posse, as they chase down every visitor, regardless of age, who chances upon that store. It isn’t very difficult to make out that this young boy is the captain of their team.
The following day I find the boy inside the convenience store, sipping from a tetra-pack in one hand and a bag of chips in the other. Out of curiosity, I ask him how his balloon business was faring. He nods and goes on to explain how a group of revelling friends got over-generous to him that night. One question leads to another and it turns out that until last year, the boy studied in a nearby school. For reasons not new to India, his parents had pulled him out of school and asked him to be of some assistance to the family.
The boy has a fascination for the products sold inside the convenience store and has found his way into buying some of them too. He knows the price of every product by heart and can effortlessly recite the price of every Haagen Dazs ice cream inside the refrigerator. When I ask him if he’s tasted one of them, he shakes his head in slight disappointment.
The boy does not like selling balloons much. It is his father’s business in the day which needs to be taken over when his father sits with his bottle of brandy at night. The boy is unfazed by the financial circumstances of the family. He just likes to be out of the slum while his father shakes off a tough day at work. The convenience store with all its lustre is his favourite place to be at. It is his free ticket to a theater of brands and celebrities, and a television his family once had. The balloon business is mostly in shambles and past midnight, is sometimes a more dignified form of begging. But he gets to be the leader of his gang and take sneak peeks at the chocolates sold inside; if he’s lucky, he even gets his hands on a prized possession.
Every night the boy passes time in and around the convenience store with his friends who have never been to school. He wows them with short stories from his Hindi textbook and how no one could outrun him at school. The group races on the dim-lit roads of Delhi on a winter night and suddenly, their half-naked, perspiring bodies, don’t feel cold anymore. The boy wins, of course.
The group seems to have become, in its own peculiar manner, an integral part of the store. Their relentless selling is a fitting welcome to the brands inside. But then I return back to the store after some days and find the boy missing. His gang sits idle, aimless. I inquire about his whereabouts and they reveal that the boy was picked up the previous night by a group of strangers. The boy in his natural response had run off to a car that pulled over by the store, only to find himself forced inside, amidst a group of onlookers. The eldest in the boy’s gang relies on his experience to tell me that the boy might be smuggled to a new place and sold to a factory or to a rich man.
I hope they sell him to a rich man. For this way, he might get to live a life similar to the one outside the convenience store. He could take sneak peeks at the chocolates that the rich man’s kids would eat and if he’s lucky, he might even get his hands on a prized possession. Hell, if the rich man is really rich, and if there is a night of frolicking at his place, the boy might even fulfill his wildest dream: a Haagen Dazs ice cream. For all rhyme or reason, the boy will live a life more comfortable than the one he’s been living since the day he left school.
My only regret is that boy might never live up to his true genius. He might never be able to fructify that brilliant memory of his or his ability to run faster than most. The world that swears by trained marketing professionals might never know how a boy could sell balloons at midnight to an in-existent target group to buy premium chocolates for himself. He might only end up running chores for the rich man, serving his family and hoping that the rich man’s children one day become leaders of the world, maybe work in one of those FMCGs that deliver chocolates to the convenience store. In the limitations of this world and the vastness of its dreams, may be the boy will never know what he was really worth and what he could have done if his parents had not pulled him out of school a year ago.
I'm pursuing my MBA from FMS Delhi and I'm on the verge of completing my first year. I love writing and I love snooker.