Sona had been selling flowers at the Birla Temple for as long as she could remember. Her earliest memories were of running around the crowded road bare feet in a tattered over sized frock gifted to her by some generous woman at the temple. Her hair unwashed and mostly tangled up in two untidy pony tails always remained tightly secured by dirty pink ribbons. Every day she began her ritual of selling flowers, by offering her first string of flowers to the temple priest. She considered it auspicious for her earnings.
Now at the age of twelve, she had experienced all the aspects of the fast-moving capital of India, with its skyscrapers and luxury cars to the kaleidoscope of contrasting images that passed in front of her as she waited day in and day out for the traffic signal to change colors.
She shared her tiny one-room with her four other siblings, mother and another girl who was orphaned sometime back. Sona preferred to live in her own world, untouched by her mother’s constant bickering, complains and drunken men who sometimes came to take her mother out.
Each morning enviously she watched the other children make their way to school, while she started off to experience yet another day of struggle. She ran behind cars till the soles of her feet became sore. Many a times she heard the rebukes of wealthy people sitting inside the air-conditioned cars. She would squeeze in her tiny hand through the window of a car in her attempt to lure some young woman to buy the string of flowers or offer some roses to some young man insisting that the woman in his life would shower her love if he bought her flowers, most of the time she shared a meager meal with the other children who also made a living at the same crossroads.
The city of Delhi unfolded before her innocent, curious eyes: uninhibited and unpretentious, in all it’s splendor. She would see the changing colors of the sky and the seasons and learn a new way to adapt herself to the new surroundings.
She saw the long queues of vehicles, waiting impatiently for the traffic light to turn in their favor, the dust and the heat of intense summer days and the bone chilling biting winters of the city. She saw the city as it was: hungry, ruthlessly ambitious, and ready to run down anyone to make their own place.
From the footpath she looked at the glittering showrooms that catered to the materialistic aspirations of the rich and famous and those of twentieth century neo rich youth along with the huge traffic hoardings warning the drivers against drunk driving. It constantly reminded of the fleeting transience of life to her.
She lovingly watched the old maulvi sahib of the madarsa nearby sit for hours in the temple complex, chatting to the old head priest and distributing sweetmeats to the poor children. She saw it as a slap at the face of religious hostility that raised its sharp talons so often these days.
She tried to peer though the glass windows of the famous swanky restaurants as chewed hard to break down and digest some hard slate bread slice. She sometimes saw herself against the backdrop of all this and more, inching her way from one car to another, jostling against the other children, all of them trying to sell flowers, magazines, toys, balloons etc. in those two- three minutes before the lights turned green.
She loved the city; it gave her a reason to live, to hope, laugh, and learn and something to look forward to each day. The city that treated her badly at times but still kept her dreams alive, the city that gave Sona an identity.
In the evening all the little street children would gather in one corner of the pavement and count their day’s earnings. As the city would gear up for the glittering night ahead Sona would huddle together with her friends and watch a small screen television. She loved to listen to the new film songs and tried to copy the moves of her favorite movie stars.
Slowly the night would silently envelope the city and she would go back to her dreamland with a smile on her face ready to take on another day with the first rays of the sun.