Life has not given them much, but they devise ways to have fun. Some become ‘fish’, others soar like ‘kites’, making the best of their childhood.
These are underprivileged children who invent all sorts of games and pastimes in Hatirjheel, the popular recreation spot of Dhaka.
They are seen swimming, flying kites, playing marbles, running or busy flying their improvised polythene bag kites in the area all through the day.
Rubel, 9, said, “I feel like a fish when I jump in the water”. The sound of the water taxies cruising through the water has become a familiar sound to them, he said.
He was competing with Ashiq, Mehdi, Sonai and Marjan to reach a pole in the water. They had left their clothes on the shore, under the trees. Marjan said, we come almost every day. Doesn’t the dirty smelly water bother them? Who cares? Mehdi promptly replies, “Naaah!”.
Another day, a group was flying kites from the foot over bridge of Hatirjheel. Rashed, 9, skillfully manoeuvering his purple kite, said, “I bought it with Tk 10.” Hassan, Sony and Sagar were his buddies -- none of them go to school. Their rough skin, cocky tone and torn shirts simply highlighted how neglected were these poor children.
Munni, 9, was playing ‘catch’ with other kids. But she was also keeping an eye out for people who would come to weigh themselves on the scales kept there. This skinny girl with her unkempt hair said to the other girls with a smile, “She is from Prothom Alo.” She studies at a local school in Rampura. She takes the weight of the visitors coming here, while playing with other girls there. Rumana, 9, was selling watermelon slices and also playing too. Both of them go to school, they said.
Nirab, 10, goes to school too and so do his pals Shamim, Rocky, Anwar and Mithhun. They were measuring the perfect distance to hit a pile of small marbles on the footpath. It was a fierce contest, with glum faces popping up every time a rival made a hit! Shamim was especially distraught as one of his marbles drowned in the lake.
Those who cannot afford kites or marbles, have fun by tying a string to the end of a polythene bag and flying them like a kite from the foot over bridge over the lake. “Whoever flies their bag the highest, will have a ‘jhalmuri’ treat,” said Rubel, pointing to the ‘jhalmuriwala’ selling the delicious concoction of spicy puffed rice. And his friends cheered.
Another 11-year-old, Noyon, was selling bottled water. Does he play too? He said, “Sometimes.” He lives in a slum near the Tejgaon railway line and does not go to school, “I got admitted to school, but have more important tasks to do…”
How does he feel when children come here with their parents? He says stoically, “They are the lucky ones. Allah has fixed everyone’s fate.”
Sumon, 11, the balloon seller, kept silent when asked the same question. Like the Afghan boy in Jafar Panahi’s movie ‘The White Balloon’, he was selling the balloons to the kids visiting the lake.
A man bought a red balloon from him for his daughter. I asked the busy boy if did his parents ever bought him toys or trinkets. He maintained his silence. Then a few minutes later, he spoke up “I don’t know where my father is. My mother is sick and can’t work. I have a younger sister.”
Had Sumon ever flown a kite in the sky? He looked up at a red kite rather wistfully, saying, “Yes, I had.” The kites seemed to have taken the dreams of these children high into the sky, leaving harsh reality below.