‘I must go on’, thought Ashok as he put the freshly moulded clay bricks into the kiln. The smoke and dust was taking its toll on his health. His face and hands were smeared black from the coal. He thought of his two little daughters. They were too small to understand his struggles in life. He was determined to give them a better life than what he had.
He himself was uneducated, never even seen what a school looked like. But here he was, toiling in the brick kiln, so that people could build schools, houses, buildings, malls and skyscrapers. What were malls, he always used to think, when he heard the kiln owner speak to some well dressed people. They were the customers, that’s all he knew. He never bothered to ask them what a mall was. Neither did his coworkers know about it. But one thing he was sure of, that his girls would one day learn about all this and much more.
He didn’t mind slogging for over twelve hours at a stretch. He knew he would be paid for his work. There were days he skipped lunch in spite of all the physical exertion, just to make sure that his girls didn’t have to go to bed with an empty stomach. They had only started their primary schooling, but they always made their father proud. Yesterday was one of the happiest days of his life. Both his children had come first in their classes. He was sure they were meant to scale greater heights, reach places that he couldn’t even imagine.
Ashok’s only childhood memory was that of this kiln and the people around it. His parents were bonded labourers here, and had struggled hard even to stay alive. His mind went back to the days he had to go without food for days. That was how he started accompanying his parents to work. All his memories were filled with coal, mud and smoke.
That day, he wanted to get something special for the girls for their achievement. What could he afford, other than the cheap candy from the local street vendor. As he walked back home from the kiln, he saw the vendor in his usual spot and approached him for two candies. But as he counted his coins to pay, he realised he didn’t have the money for two.
‘I’m sorry, one will do’, he told the vendor with a heavy heart.
‘Oh, never mind, take two. I know it’s for your lovely kids. You can pay me later if you so wish’, and he handed two candies to Ashok. He didn’t know how to thank the vendor.
As he reached home, he daughters rushed to him. He handed over the candy packet to them. ‘This is for both of you.’. As they opened the packet, he could sense their joy. The sparkle in their eyes was all he longed for.