“I want a pair of new shoes, Maa!” Aman, twelve, shouted out loud with an expression on his face which clearly told that nothing could be uglier than the pair of soiled, shabby sport shoes he was holding.
“Scrub and wash them with a soap; they’ll look as good as new, Aman,” his mother replied, “and get ready, we are going to Shani Temple.”
Aman scowled, pouting his lips petulantly, and began his belligerent bargain: he groaned, moaned, cried and ranted so much about his friends having branded pairs that by the time they left for the temple, the mother had given up and Aman, having won the battle, looked as happy as if his birthday had come earlier!
Aman, now carrying his old shoes in a plastic bag, walked beside his mother who too had a bag of old, worn out clothes.
“Saturday evening,” the mother explained, “is auspicious for giving essential items like clothes, food to beggars. Give your old shoes to someone in need. On the way back home, I’ll buy you a new pair…now listen carefully about the importance of Shani-Dev- the God of Saturn…”
But Aman was hardly listening to her religious discourses for he was too busy dreaming about his own world, excited to show off his new shoes to his friends tomorrow at the school.
Ten minutes later, they reached the temple. The beggars were there – children, men, women, elders – all begging with their bowls. On Saturdays, people became surprisingly generous and did a lot of charity. Shani-Dev, Aman thought, seemed to scare the Rich mostly on this day which, for the lucky Poor, turned out to be the peak time for their business of begging!
After a quick worship at the temple, Aman’s mother opened the bag of clothes, and the beggars leaped up as if a treasure chest had been unlocked. Seconds later, a bunch of beggars bumped and bustled about them, all desperate to grab the pot of gold. Aman jostled around, looking for the right candidate to claim his old shoes; in the hustle and bustle, a small boy in rags, sitting quietly in a corner, caught his attention. Aman hurried to him –
“Oye! Take it, they’re my shoes…will fit you nicely!” Aman offered, hastily thrusting the plastic bag that had the shoes.
The poor boy simply smiled and shook his head in ‘no’.
“Take it!” Aman shoved the bag in to the boy’s hands, and added naively, “My mum says if you wash them, they’ll be as good as new!”
“No…Don’t need shoes…cannot wear…” the boy muttered.
“Take -” Aman started, but words melted in his mouth as he looked down and saw what he had overlooked in his haste. An uneasy realisation dawned on him. The poor boy had no legs. Just round stumps below the knees. An ill-fated accident had left him handicapped.
Aman looked helplessly at the boy who said, “Give me some paisa…want food…”
Aman took out all the coins he had in his pocket and poured it on the boy’s palm. The boy simply smiled his child like smile, his eyes twinkling. A moment later, Aman returned the smile.
“Aman, come…” his mother called, having finished giving the clothes.
Aman turned around and, with a last glance at the boy, walked away, gripping the plastic bag tightly lest any other beggar snatch it away, his innocent mind absorbed in what he had just seen and felt…
“Let’s go…Aman? Aman? Are you listening?”
“Oh…Uhh…Yeah, let’s go, Maa…” Aman said, pulling himself back to his senses.
“Oh, you haven’t given away the shoes; give them to somebody.”
“No, No…Maa…let’s go home.” Aman insisted to his puzzled mother who got more perplexed when her son refused to buy new shoes. All the way home, Aman was unusually sombre. As soon as they reached home, Aman took out the old shoes from the plastic bag and asked for a scrub.
“I don’t get it? You’ve been acting strangely. Is something wrong, dear? ” asked an inquisitive mother as she handed him the scrub and soap.
Aman looked at her and smiled, “Nothing. I’ll do what you told me, Maa – scrub, wash and make them as good as new!” And, like an obedient son, he sat down and started cleaning the shoes.
And, as for Aman’s mother, she was still puzzling and pondering over her son’s sudden change of heart…