Continuing my series on people who have touched my life;

He looked about seventeen, slender, carelessly dressed and sporting a red paint dot on his forehead. I was about to enter a temple in Delhi. He came out and walked over to my tuk-tuk driver who was patiently waiting for me and my son. They seemed to know each other and immediately engaged in animated conversation. Maybe it is just their language, or maybe the volume, but Indians always sound as if they are highly excited.

An hour later, when my son and I left the temple to continue our sightseeing, the lad was still leaning against the tuk-tuk.

“Hello,” I said.

He surprised me by replying in English.

“What were you doing in the temple?” I asked.

“Me  pray for work,” he replied. “ Me shoe shine boy. No money, cannot finish school . No good study – no good job. Must pray hard.”

His limited English was a big improvement over that of  the driver’s whom I had hired for the day.

“Our driver does not speak English,” I replied, “And we don’t understand what we  see. Can I pay you to accompany us and act as our tour guide?”

He frowned.

“Come with us. Help us.” I indicated my money purse. His eyes widened and he grinned, revealing strong, white teeth.

“Okay,” he said. “ Me Ajay.”

My son and I squeezed closer and Ajay climbed aboard.

“I am Jodi,” I volunteered, “And this is Chip. “

“Okay Mama,” he replied, and from then on, I was Mama.

We chugged through the heaving traffic of the city, inhaling grey petrol fumes while the driver continuously tooted the squeaky horn. At one point he knocked a rider off his scooter. The man picked himself up from the dust and he and our driver engaged in heated words, oblivious to the sea of traffic surging around us. Anxious to move, I handed the scooter rider a few rupees and we were on our way.

With India newly affluent since my last visit, I marveled at the number of new cars on the narrow roads which once were traversed merely by bicycles, camels and elephants. There seemed to be no traffic rules, with vehicles driving on either side, dominance accorded to the biggest or the noisiest. The majority of new cars were already dented from collisions.

Chip was holding his shirt-tail over his nose.

I coughed dryly for the umpteenth time as caustic fumes tickled my throat.

Ajay looked at me and stated, “It be the kerosene.”

“Kerosene? I was confused.

“Mmmm. Drivers mix kerosene, petrol. Kerosene little money. Petrol big money.”

I pondered these drivers, spending money on new cars then polluting the engines, not to mention the air, with kerosene.

The tuk-tuk unexpectedly swerved to miss a heavily laden elephant and I was almost thrown out onto the road. Grabbing Chip, I pulled myself back into the dubious safety of the cab.

We continued our sight-seeing with the driver stopping whenever we came upon an impressive building amid the rag-tag huddle of  dilapidated shacks. Indeed, these occasional temples, palaces, walls, archways, were grand and the driver would wave his arms, his face suffused with pride, as he indicated we disembark and take photos.

The day was growing long when we stopped some distance from a fenced series of stately red brick buildings. Tall guards, wearing colorful uniforms and carrying rifles, patrolled out front.

“No go close,” Ajay warned, “No camera. Stop here.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Prime minister’s house.”

“It is lovely,” I said.

Ajay answered by spitting angrily into the dust. “Yes,” he growled. “English build big house. Fancy house. Many rooms. Why one man need many rooms? Him bad leader. He no care his people have no rooms. They sleep on street in rain. Why that man no open some rooms for people to sleep.”

I was surprised at such vehemence in one so young. And I was impressed that he already had a social conscience.

Despite our conversational limitations, by the end of the day, I had developed a fond respect for this young man .

“Could you come to my hotel tomorrow and the next day?” I asked Ajay as the driver pulled in before our hotel. “ I want you to work as our guide while we are here. We are staying in room 12.”

“No can do.” He shook his head, “Hotel desk man no let me come inside.”

“Good heavens,” I cried, ” Why not?”

“Because they know I street boy. They chase out street boy.”

“What?” I exploded, “Of course you can come in. Don’t you worry. I will talk to the manager. You be here by 9 a.m..” I took a deep breath and continued, “Oh, by the way, your prayers have been answered. India needs smart young men like you. I will provide your education, Ajay.”

The look on the boys face was my reward as he stammered and stuttered in disbelief.



Ajay completed his education and now, six years later, he is no longer on the streets but employed by a Travel Agency. He has been able to elevate the living standard of his mother and younger siblings.

He still calls me Mama and in two weeks time I return to Delhi to attend his wedding.




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