Photographer Arindam Mukherjee documents the life of
13-year-old Sheikh Alamgirwho ran away from home at 7
& lived at a railway station in Calcutta for 6 years
"Oh-ho! Now what?", I think.
"I just ran away from home", he replies.
I hesitate for a bit as I think thru' how to respond to this.
Its 6:30 pm and Anna is sleeping on his bed, in his classical praying mantis pose. His razai (i.e. comforter) is pulled up over him, covering his mouth. I bend over his bed rail, and hold his thin hands through the razai.
"Anna, aren't you warm under your razai?", hoping that it will remind him that he is at home and not cold and alone somewhere, thinking he has run away from home.
"Yes", he says. And yet, there seems to be no change in his eyes. Normally, I can make out when he moves from a disoriented state to reality, by looking at his eyes.
"Sangeeta, you should get me a wrist band with my details so that people can find me when I am lost", he adds.
"Like the lanyard with emergency contact details I had made for you in Bangalore?", I ask tho' I know that he can't move a step without an attendant.
"Yes", he responds. "Someone can bring me home then".
"Anna, you are at home. In bed under your razai. You haven't run away", I say.
Long Pause. I continue to hold his razai covered hands.
"No, I didn't", he responds. "Baachoo did".
Ok, now we are getting somewhere. The name Baachoo, sounds familiar but I can't remember the context.
"Baachoo ran away from home. Maybe I thought I did," he adds.
"Phew! He's all here", I think.
"Who Baachoo, Anna?", I ask.
So he tells me about Baachoo.
Baachoo (Bhaskhar Rao) is Anna's second cousin. Baachoo's father was my grandfather's cousin. His family lived on the same street as Anna's family. Baachoo was born some time between Anna's two younger brothers, Padukaka and Krishnakaka.
I ask Anna, "Why are you thinking of Baachoo suddenly? Did something happen to remind you of Baachoo? He will be an old man now."
I am wondering if there was a call about Baachoo. He doesn't tell me why he is thinking of his childhood cousin and friend.
He then tells me, "When Baachoo was 13 or 14, he ran away from home. The family saw him go to bed one night. When we woke up the next morning, he wasn't there. Poof!"
"Oh dear! That is so sad", I think.
"Anna, how did they find him?", I ask.
Now I remember the story of Baachoo.
Every afternoon and evening, Baachoo, would sit with Anna, Padukaka and Krishnakaka (Anna's two younger brothers) and study. And as was the fashion those days, they would sit crossed legged on the floor, books before them, and oscillate forward and backward as they read their lessons aloud.
One evening, Uncle Ramachandra Rao returned from work as Baachoo was diligently studying his English lesson. Baachoo's torso moved forward and backward, keeping pace with his sing-song voice that intoned four words endlessly, "The horse lays eggs. The horse lays eggs. The horse lays eggs."
Uncle Ramachandra Rao, didn't miss a step as he walked by and gently admonished his son with, "Knowddi wodeno Baachoo!" Watch what you are reading Baachoo!
The three brothers rolled on the floor with laughter. And for a long time when someone mucked up something in their studies the others would loudly say "Knowddi wodeno Baachoo!"
Anna smiles as he finishes the story. Thankfully the sad memories have ended with a happy one, and a smile.
Anna has never run away from home.
Baachoo never returned home nor was found.
Losing a childhood companion must have been traumatic for Anna.
I still don't know why Anna thought he had run away or was thinking of Baachoo.