In today’s edition of the Bangalore edition of the Hindu newspaper there is an article that appears as part of a series about the “men and women who make Bangalore what it is.” The article features a boy named Rooban who describes, with considerable pride his work as a newspaper delivery boy working in the city. Rooban states that:-
“I have been delivering newspapers to people’s homes in Malleswaram every morning for over a year now”.
He describes how each morning he rises at 4.30 to cycle to pick up his newspapers and deliver them to local houses and flats, a task that takes him about two hours.
When I read this article I recalled my own experiences as a morning paper boy, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, delivering daily newspapers to houses near where I lived in order to gain some pocket money. There is a long established tradition of paper boys and girls delivering the daily news to houses in most towns and cities across England. It was this initial recollection that attracted me to the Hindu article, but as is often the case when considering my own experiences and those of individuals in India, I found myself pondering on the totally different circumstances that surround a seemingly familiar situation.
For a start, my paper round usually commenced at around 7.00 am. and took at most an hour to complete. But this is not the main difference between Rooban’s experience and my own. Whilst my paper round was undertaken purely to provide me with pocket money to support my hobbies and interests, Rooban says that:-
“I wanted to be able to pay for my own education and that of my younger brother”.
He goes on to say that:-
“My parents don’t want me to work. But I want to, so that I can help them and they can save their money for our everyday needs”.
Rooban describes how after completing his paper round, he cycles back home so that he and his younger brother can get ready for school. This is a well-established routine and it is with evident pride that Rooban reports that he doesn’t miss a school day, even when there are exams.
Like Rooban, I used to return home from my paper deliveries, and after a good breakfast would make my way to school, sometimes I suspect with less enthusiasm than that exhibited by Rooban. I wonder now if I should feel slightly guilty about this, because it is the clear commitment towards his education, and that of his brother, that motivates Rooban to get up before dawn, to pursue a task that might just enable him to have aspirations towards a better quality of life. His recognition that by fulfilling this role he is supporting his family and enabling everyone to have their everyday needs more readily addressed, indicates a maturity of thought that we might not always expect of someone so young.
How, I wonder, does Rooban cope with the expectations of a school day after having risen at 4.30 am. in order to complete his day’s work? In England concerns are often expressed about children who arrive at school having had insufficient sleep and possibly missing breakfast. There is a plethora of evidence to suggest that such circumstances have a detrimental impact upon the ability of children to concentrate and learn. Yet it would appear from the Hindu’s reporting of this boy’s life, within a column celebrating the lives of “men and women who make Bangalore what it is,” that the editor sees this as part of the normal expectations that enable the city to function.
When I did my paper round I did so out of choice. Had I chosen not to take on this job I suspect my life would not have been greatly different. I suppose it may be argued that even this rather trivial task taught me something about responsibility and self-discipline. I had to get myself to work on time, deliver the right newspapers to the correct houses, keeping them dry when it rained, and learn how to fend off the occasional nasty tempered dog (it lived at number 16 and is permanently etched in my memory!) For Rooban, the choices he has made are very different from my own. He has reasoned that delivering newspapers can help him to secure a better education for himself and his brother, and make life easier for his parents. I look back on my experiences as a paper boy with quite fond memories as a task that enabled me to do some of the things that I might not have been otherwise able to do. In the future, Rooban may recollect his days delivering newspapers as a critical factor in enabling him to gain a more secure position in life, that enables him to provide a better childhood for his offspring than he has experienced in his youth. This is the wish that I have for him and thousands in similar situations in Bangalore, let us hope that his dreams are realised.