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Life in the City

Dipavali Debroy

By Rucha Humnabadkar
Frog Books, 2006, pp. 244, Rs. 250.00

By Pratik Basu
Rupa, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 268, Rs. 195.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 2 February 2007

Dance of the Fireflies draws attention – once again – to the life of street children. I say ‘once again’ because attention has occasionally been drawn to it right from the Victorian Age. In Oliver Twist, Dickens had sketched out the life of London’s street children like The Artful Dodger and Charlie Bates. Conan Doyle put them in as helping Sherlock Holmes in his investigations. Apart from literary efforts, there were sociological studies like Booth’s Life and Labour of the London Poor, 1889-1905, and Rowntree’s Poverty; A Study of Town life, 1901. Street children have been a development concomitant with urbanization and industrialization of England. The Indian experiences of urbanization and industrialization are running with more than a hundred years’ lag, our novels and surveys are more recent. Takagachh (Tree of Money) by Lila Majumdar and Premendra Mitra, written in the 1960s, is an instance in Bengali. Dance of the Fireflies, a debut novel by Rucha Humnabadkar may be placed in this tradition.   The story is set in the opening years of the twenty-first century. It is woven around Chotu, a seven-year-old boy from a small village in Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh.   The village landlord, the state government and the weather gods had driven his father to suicide. He had drunk the very pesticide he had taken a loan to buy. Chotu’s mother has lost her mind. Pedamma, an old woman of the village, sees Chotu through his initial days of bereavement and bewilderment. Gradually, he begins to get rehabilitated. He acquires a puppy and he acquires a dream – that of a shiny red bicycle like the one that the landlord’s son has. As he walks along the railway tracks passing through his village, he sees fireflies dance in the dark and feels the city lights beckon. With the prospects of good pay and therefore a bicycle, Chotu leaves his village and takes a train into the unknown.   On the platform in Hyderabad he is accosted by the new life and goes through a series of experiences ranging from sordid and traumatic to warm and enriching. He discovers others like him, like the girl Tasneem ,who is a victim of the Tsunami disaster, and much more. “Unknowingly, Chotu learnt the laws of the street.”(p.160).   But he also gets access to the help being offered by NGOs like Aasra, a home for shelter-less children, founded in 1985 by “...

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