The Lost Spring, a short story by Anees Jung, highlights the plight of slum children and those employed in the bangle making industry in India. What makes matters worse is that these people are not able to emancipate themselves even if they want to! When Anees asks a group of young men, bangle makers in Firozabad why they don’t organise themselves “into a cooperative”, their answer is that “Even if (they) get organised, (they) are the ones who will be hauled up by the police, beaten and dragged to jail for doing something illegal”.
It is clear that children like Saheb and Mukesh are stuck between two worlds, a world of superstition, dead rituals, orthodox beliefs, and the conviction that one is born into a caste - in this case, Mukesh is born into a caste of bangle makers, therefore it is “his Karam, his destiny” to be a bangle-maker. To even think of breaking out of this “god given lineage” is unthinkable according to Mukesh’s grandmother. Mukesh has a dream, a dream of becoming a motor mechanic, but then one wonders if the society will ever allow him to change his profession. Bangle making is a child intensive industry and it is clear that laws are doing little to address this problem. In many cases, it is lack of will to implement laws, that prevents the eradication of child labour, in others it is about lack of knowledge about this social evil. Apathy towards the problem of child labour, procrastination, the presence of greedy middle-men, commission agents and politicians are a few other reasons why child labour continues to exist in our society today!
The title of the lesson, “Lost Spring” is in itself evocative of a major social evil that abounds in our society even today. It suggests lost opportunities, lost innocence, lost happiness, and lost hope. In a nutshell, it spells out how poverty has robbed children of their childhood. In some cases, there are natural forces that conspire to keep people and children in a state of perpetual poverty. In the case of Saheb, it was because of the “the many storms that swept away their fields and homes” that forced his family and him to migrate to “the big city” in search of “gold”. One is reminded about the gold rush in America which caused a large number of people to leave their homes in a futile search for what would be an elusive El-Dorado! In India, we have come across people who have left their homes, and often happy lives to join the film industry in Mumbai. Many were left destitute as their dreams for a better life soured in no time. Rag pickers like Saheb might scrounge for gold in the garbage bins but the only gold they might recover could be limited to a ten rupee note!
That poverty breeds even more poverty can be inferred from a case study of rag pickers all over the country. What begins as a game of scrounging in garbage bins, and turning up with surprise items soon becomes a harsh struggle for survival as children born in rag-pickers families become “partners in survival”! Hard though it may seem, these children soon grow into their profession and they begin to find some kind of comfort in their profession. Thus, for Saheb, rag-picking was an easier task than working at the tea-stall because according to Anees, “The steel canister seems heavier than the plastic bag he would carry so lightly….The bag was his. The canister belongs to the man who owns the tea shop.”
The “rags to riches” story does not work for children like Saheb, or even Mukesh! Films like Slumdog Millionaire might romanticise poverty and the abrupt turn of fortune, but the reality is worse. Poverty is a vicious circle, a whirlpool that sucks in hapless victims and never lets them go! In many ways, I would say that Lost Spring is a rather disturbing lesson that brings out the tragedy called child labour. This is surely a lesson that disrupts our sense of security and forces us to step out of our comfort zone. Lack of education and unemployment are some of the factors that indeed conspire to force children into child labour. The other factors stem from these two factors. Lack of awareness, natural calamities, apathy, poor enforcement of laws, rules and regulation, and of course lack of will are all extenuating factors. The question of education does come in the story when without thinking, the narrator asks him if he would like to join school if she opened one and readily replies, "Yes" with a smile. Unfortunately, this was quite like the promises that are made and broken at will in his world. Yes there are not enough schools to accomodate slum children, but then one wonders if only opening schools would solve the problem of child labour. Stephen Spender very clearly hints that one cannot educate a child who has an empty stomach in his poem, An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum!
Flamingo: Textbook for class XII
(Stories of Stolen Childhood by Anees Jung)