Previous Episode: Getting Lost In The Middle Of The Night
Joining as a new employee at Idli Podi was initially an unusual experience for me because I had never worked a job before, much less in a foreign country. My first day, I slowly walked into the store, eyes darting around looking for the manager to talk to. All the other employees just stared at me and I could feel their eyesight follow my every move. I introduced myself and told the manager that I was newly hired, but he just gave me a straight face and told me to go stand in a corner. I did as I was told but my mind was running with many thoughts. I didn’t know how the other restaurant staff would treat me or if I would get along with them. I also was wondering if my work would be very tough, but my desperation to put food on my plate overcame any other unnecessary thoughts. One by one, my new coworkers slowly came forward and started inquiring what my name was and where I came from. Slowly, after a few days, I was accepted into their small group discussions during breaks, although my American accent was made fun of a lot, but they started taking care of me. The man at the register, Bilal, was like an older brother to me, talking to me about politics, technologies, and the happenings in the U.S. Parameshwari Akka become an older sister figure and always asked me about my family and my life in America. The head chef, Udhay Kumar, was greatly impressed with my background and made sure to constantly look out for me. The food for the restaurant would get delivered from a central kitchen and the elderly man that drove the delivery truck greatly intimidated me. He was rude and always barked at me to work faster. But, slowly, I talked to him about my life and he was greatly impressed with my story. I got close with him and recognized that he actually had a soft heart. The last character at Idli Podi was a boy named Chinnu Kumar and his story was similar to mine. Chinnu Kumar was 16 years old and had come from Bihar, a state in northern India, to find work. He stopped going to school in 7th grade and started working to support his family. A few months earlier, he traveled to Chennai, a city far away from home where a different language was spoken, to find job opportunities. Both of us did not have a common language to communicate, but we shared a close relationship despite that because of our age. We both washed the dishes and cleaned the floor together and also took walks during our breaks to go eat sweets at his favorite Adyar Anandha Bhavan. The few pieces that we would share would cost me a whole day’s worth of labor. For the first time I felt the value of money. I was able to pick up some Hindi from him and I taught him a little English during the time I spent with him. I maintained contact with him even after I came back home to the U.S. but, after a few months, I could not reach him so I just moved on. One day when I was talking to another one of the coworkers, they told me that Chinnu Kumar had suffered a head injury and lost his memory and his parents took him back to Bihar. When I heard that I was so shocked that I did not sleep for a few days. Chinnu Kumar’s experiences got me thinking. Millions of kids in India drop out of school for many reasons. They end up at a lowly job with no education, and for the rest of their lives they are stuck in the same position. Many kids drop out of school in the United States also, but in the U.S. many people have the opportunity to get back into the mainstream education system at any point in time in their lives. India has a very good education system, but focusing on drop out kids to bring them back should be a major goal for the future.