Sandra Ramsdam’s story talks about the plight of the poor and the marginalized people, with illegal mining as a backdrop.
“Hurry up! We got to go home!” Ton was not even explained what was the urgency of the situation and he could not even recognise the man’s face that seemed to have come with some bad news from home. He did not even ask why but being always in the plight of being ordered about, he obediently hurried to the stranger’s side after picking up his small baggage which consisted of a pair of trousers and shirts and a steel Tiffin box that his mother had packed his lunch when he left home to work in the coal mine just a few months back. He had earned Ten thousand rupees and had calculated that by the time he visited his family, he would have saved some amount to buy shoes for himself and perhaps a shawl for his mother and some warm clothing for his siblings.
At twelve years old, he had seen rough days within his family. His mother had always been ill ever since his father went away with another woman, and he could never remember her without a scarf tied around her head. He and his elder sister had to drop off school as they had no means for supporting their livelihood, let alone school fees and books. His two younger siblings were still in school, but God knows when they would have the same fate as him. Ton had started doing menial chores with a local mason, but he was hardly paid because the malik said that giving him free lunch was more than he deserved, and so he was content with the free food of rice and fried potatoes daily.
When a neighbour told his mother that he would take him to 1Jaintia hills, he had felt the thrill to work away from his village, and learning that it’s a far-off place with lots of coal to dig, Ton was extremely excited. He did not know exactly what kind of work he would be doing, but he was keen anyway. After all, he would not miss his poverty-stricken family, and they too would not miss him much, as long as there is hope for meagre financial assistance that the family could depend on.
Tagging along the stranger’s side were three other boys, about his same age with whom he had laboured side by side at the mining field. The grim face of the stranger seemed to portend some terrible incident, and Ton’s mind went to his mother. She must have died, he thought, but perhaps the stranger was saving him from the shocking news. He wanted to enquire the man but he seemed very preoccupied with his cell phone. Later, the man was joined by two other men. ‘Maybe these people are taking us to another boss’, Ton thought.