106 x 152 cm
oil on canvas
A little boy with the cheekiest of smiles playfully steals a hat from the manager. He proudly poses with the over-sized, back-to-front Adidas cap and tells me his story.
When he was very little his mother and siblings died leaving him to grow up alone with a father who drank heavily and beat him. He was compelled to beg, hoping for a few rupees but often receiving a kick or slap instead. One day 10 year old Maneesh was begging on a train, when he came across a BBA activist on his way to Mukti Ashram Rescue Centre in Delhi. When asked why he was not studying, Maneesh explained his predicament. Legally unable to take Maneesh, the activist wrote the address of Mukti Ashram on a piece of paper and gave the little boy 20 rupees (about 20p).
Although Maneesh could not read he found his way over 300km by train, bus and rickshaw and, before the activist himself had arrived at Mukti Ashram, Maneesh had knocked at the door and asked to go to school.
When I first met him he had transferred to Bal Ashram Rehabilitation Centre to complete his non-formal education, enabling him to reach the standard of the other boys of his own age in school. Consistently very attentive and top of the class, he caught up very quickly. When I met him again a year later he was proudly wearing his blue and beige school uniform and heading off to school with all the other local boys. Within that year of encouragement and security, he had blossomed into a confident cheerful lad whose goal was to become a doctor – a far cry from the fearful little boy found begging on the train.