Deprivation, born out of poverty and hunger, has snatched away the carefree childhood from millions of children in India and other Third World countries. Here’s Lily’s short story, based on real life. She documents the life of a child, Chhotu, and his unending hardships, as part of Different Truths special feature on World Day Against Child Labour.

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“Chhotuuu!” Yelled an incensed voice. The robust, (no that’s not correct) morbidly obese teenager slumped on the driving seat of his flashy car, screeching his lungs out. Chhotu was the 11-year- old boy, who was being beckoned with such urgency.

Chhotu had run away a few months ago from his abusive dad, who mostly lay in a drunken stupor in the mosquito marauded street outside their dump. The roof leaked in his shack during monsoons and there was hardly any food in the house. He got onto a train, ticketless, to reach New Delhi from Bihar.

He washed utensils in hot kitchens in order to have one square meal! His hands cracked and blistered with the harsh chemicals! He had sores and boils on his head for he hardly ever got time to bathe! The filthy rat infested pigeon hole of a kitchen was his place to crash in deep exhaustion. The floor littered with vegetable peels was his bed.


Chhotu often sobbed himself to sleep, cursing the day he was born! He vaguely remembered his mother’s soft hands on his head as she sang him to sleep. She died when he was barely eight, wasting away with cancer and hunger.

As he looked longingly towards the boys playing football in the field beyond the restaurant, he stopped rolling the chapattis that he would do like an automation for hours on end! He had never had a tee shirt with a logo like those the boys wore. Chhotu’s shorts were torn and shabbily patched! His shirt was in shreds with repeated washings.

The owner of the restaurant gave him no money for he said craftily, “I feed and lodge you dear chap. Why do you need money?” It was back breaking work for a slip of a boy. There was hardly any flesh on his bones. He cleaned. He did all the dirty dishes. He ran to take orders from rude and often offensively odious customers. He even helped with the chopping and cooking. He imagined his amma’s voice ricocheting through his buzzing brain, singing a popular folk song in his native tongue. The lyrics and tune were like balm. His limbs were like weights that he had trouble moving.


The boss thought nothing of pulling his ears hard for catching a wink. He slapped him soundly if he did not get up with the lark. There were slashes of knife attacks on his painfully thin arms, the result of answering him back impudently one fine morning. His repugnant and contemptible state of affairs made him vulnerable to more atrocities. A pair of tongs scalding hot from the gas stove tattooed a festering burn on his right leg one busy evening. The sting from the burn made him yelp like a wounded puppy. There was no one to hear his pleas for mercy.

Was this his fate, he wondered? This deplorable existence. This abhorrent stink in his heart, this loathsome life that he lived mechanically. Am I a freak creation? A child of a lesser God?

Or am I paying for past life accumulated Karma as the Indian philosophy tried to explain to his juvenile brain?

He had once tried stealing a few sips of his monstrous employer’s cough syrup! It put him to sleep. What bliss! He was lost to this hellish world for a few thankful hours till he was kicked awake by pointed shoes almost cracking his ribs. Was there no peace for him ever?

I ask this question on behalf of Chhotu to all those who employ mere kids for menial work on the lame pretext of helping them financially! Fear the wrath of your own diseased conscience you deadened souls.


(Meanwhile Chhotu died at 14 years of age with malnutrition and tuberculosis, which had gone undetected. There are thousands of Chhotus all over the world silently sobbing to sleep).

©Lily Swarn

Pix from Net.


Lily Swarn

Lily Swarn

Lily has published English poems in three anthologies. She was awarded Reuel international prize for poetry 2016. A postgraduate in English from Punjab University, she was awarded a gold medal for best all-round student and academics. She edited her college magazine and wrote middles for newspapers. Poetry blossomed after her young son's sudden demise. She writes in Hindi and English. Hailing from a defence family, she is settled in Chandigarh.
Lily Swarn