Thirteen-year-old Charan Mani Bhovi told us he wanted to go home. “The studies are very hard here. I don’t know English, and all the lessons are in English,” he said in Tamil, his mother tongue. He was holding the hand of another boy. “My younger brother, Dhanush,” he said. Eleven-year-old Dhanush Mani Bhovi smiled eagerly. Even after Charan let go of his hand, the younger boy hovered close to him.
The boys’ parents are no more; their sister and her husband helped look after them after their parents’ death. Charan wanted to go and work in a car workshop—like his older cousin brother, whom both boys adore. As we talked, the warden came over and told Charan that his sister had called. The boys’ cousin brother had had an accident and was in a critical condition. Silence fell. “We have to go home,” Charan said. This time, the reason was a different, grave one.
There was no outward show of grief; Charan was calm and collected. As the duo bade us goodbye, several questions raced through my mind: Would the boys return to the Chatralayam? Or would Charan go to work in a car workshop? I also couldn’t help wondering: For a boy who faced a personal crisis with such calm maturity, would English prove to such a daunting hurdle?
I silently wished that the boys would come back to the Chatralayam—and experience what I hoped would be a wholesome childhood, and grow into mature, successful individuals.
Five months after our meeting, we learnt that Charan and Dhanush had returned to the Chatralayam. To tackle their English lessons, they were relying on help from the warden and fellow students at the Chatralayam. The newfound habit of reading storybooks was an added bonus.