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Sunil, originally uploaded by elefanterosado.

I found him in rags, supporting his family at the age of 14. He was and remains scrupulously honest, hard working and kind. He drove a dirty, dilapidated bicycle rickshaw and was lucky to make ten rupees a day, not counting the cut he handed the Fagan who leased him his poor peddler’s taxi.

We hired him for three successive days and he graciously chauffeured us through his beautiful city, home of The Taj Mahal. The city’s beauty, alas, was a tourists’ mirage. At night, he and many others like him, returned to its marginal, squalid fringes. He showed up at our hotel at 4 a.m. once, although we hadn’t asked him to come until 6. He waited without complaint in the soon-broiling sun, grateful for a job. Eager and proud to show us the Taj, the crown jewel of his town.

When we bought him a new and spiffy rickshaw before leaving Agra, he was mobbed by cabbies more than twice his age who would never in their lives own such an opulent vehicle. Within minutes, he became the It Boy of Agra’s rickshaw taxi drivers. But only for a few minutes.

It still wasn’t enough, and the guilt I felt at aiding and abetting a child’s slow decent into near slavery plagued me. Upon returning to the U.S., I begged him to sell the rickshaw, pocket the money, and return to school. I sent him money every month for five years, all of which he faithfully spent on a secondary education. In that time he endured total estrangement from his mother, who only wanted the money his new American friend was sending him, but would not in return give her son one shred of a costless yet invaluable love. She had found him in the street a starving child, she told him, and to the street he could return. She did not want him. She was not his real mother; only a temporary stand-in.

Despite the education I bought and paid for and the money I regularly sent my “second son” (as I call him), oceans away in India he remains lost and struggling and alone. He wants to become a doctor and help the poor. But more than anything, he craves the love he has been so cruelly denied.

“For me you are God, Didi,” * he tells me repeatedly in our phone conversations. “This life is for you. I have nobody else. Only you.”

And my heart breaks anew.

(*Didi is a Hindi endearment, which can loosely be translated as “sister,” but there is a special reverence attached to the term.)


Comment from FjordWoman
Time January 3, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Oh my God, Sunil sounds like an amazing young man. My heart breaks for him and his situation. Is there a way he could ever come to the US to study, or is it that difficult for Indian citizens to gain visas? I’m so sorry for my ignorance; I just pray for him that he will find his way. He has so much to offer. You are truly his guardian angel.
We never know who we will help by simply acknowledging them, and the longlasting resonance this will have through their lives. You are such a very good soul.

Comment from Elefanterosado
Time January 4, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Thanks for your kind words. Sometimes I don’t feel as though I have done enough. About the only way for him to come here would be for me to pledge complete and utter financial support and responsibility for him. I do think he’d be happier here; he is completely alone there.