A few years ago, in the Bengali town of Kalyani, there lived a young girl named Radha. She was a simple girl. She lived with her mother in a 2 BHK apartment above a sweet shop. Her father had gone to Chennai 10 years ago to make his fortune, but never wrote to them or sent any money back home. Her mother worked as a peon in a big office, and earned 1000/- a month, just enough for the two of them. Every morning she woke up at 5:30 in the morning to go to school, and by the time she came back, her mother would have left, but not without setting up lunch in the kitchen.
Today was such a day. Her mother had told her that an orange Bengali cat had entered the town, and kept going into people’s houses and eating rice and lentils from their kitchens. So, her mother had asked her to guard the rice and lentils. Radha quickly finished lunch and sat on a mat in the kitchen, doing her homework and keeping a short stick within easy reach. An hour or so later, when Radha finished her homework, she heard a scuffling noise at the balcony door. She stood up slowly, grasping the stick tightly, ready to strike, and went to the door. She peered through a crack and saw what caused the noise. Can you guess what it was? Yes, it was the cat! Radha gasped. That cat was almost as big as a fox! She cautiously opened the door just a crack to have a better look. But the cat was too quick and squeezed its way into the house. Radha shut the door and hurried after the cat. When she found it, she noticed there was a piece of paper pinned to its tail. In a very unpracticed and illegible handwriting, it said, “I’ am hungry.” The cat sprang up on the kitchen countertop and with its mouth, took down the box of rice, put some in a small polythene bag lying on the table, took it in its mouth, and jumped out through the window. Radha was left staring open-mouthed. She was bewildered and confused, and told her mother about all that had happened. But the only thing she was worried about was that the cat might come again. But Radha half-secretly wanted the cat to come again!
The next day, her mother hid all the rice and lentils in a cupboard much too high for a cat. She locked it and entrusted the key to Radha. A delighted Radha came back from school and boiled some rice and heated curry, and packed it in a bag. She also packed some pickles. Sure enough, the cat came again. The note this time said, “Bring food down to the basement under the grocery shop in Ranaghat. Please.” Radha felt nervous. She had not gone out without her mother except for school. What if she got lost? What if her mother didn’t find her? But she took a deep breath, took out 20/- from her piggy bank and took a rickshaw to Ranaghat Grocery Shop. The cat was purring contentedly in her lap during the whole journey.
Radha paid the driver and took the stairs to the basement. It was smelly, musty, and dim. Radha clutched her dupatta close to her body. When she reached the landing, she turned and nearly screamed in shock. A very thin and white boy had touched her shoulder, smiling in relief. Radha breathed very fast. The boy said something in a squeaky little voice. When Radha motioned that she couldn’t hear, he brought his mouth close to her ears and whispered, “I want food. I hungry.” Radha cautiously reached for the packet of food in her dupatta. She handed it to him, and he ran to what seemed to be his bed. It was a pretty old and battered mattress with a ragged blanket. He devoured the food in large, hungry bites and looked up at an embarrassed Radha, respectfully. Radha went and sat down on the floor near him. She asked slowly, “What your name?” so that he would understand. He replied in the same squeaky voice, “My name… Neel.” Radha was encouraged by the reply. She asked his parents’ whereabouts, and he dejectedly murmured that they were dead in Tamil Nadu. They talked a little more, but soon Radha realized it was almost time for her mother to come home. But she could not leave Neel and go away. So, she took him with her, but had to leave the cat, as he cost 5/-, and Radha only had 10/-, enough for herself and Neel. They reached Radha’s home and she realized she had 2/- left. So she bought Neel a jalebi, an Indian sweet. Neel’s jaw dropped when he saw his friend’s house.
When Radha had shown Neel his room and bathroom, she fed him a little more, by which time her mother came home. As Radha explained what had happened, her mother’s eyes grew wider and wider, until she firmly said that Neel should stay with them and when they managed to get anything out of him, they could ask the police to find out about his parentage. If they knew that, they could send him to school. Over the next few days, they tried to figure out where he was from. Neel finally said he was born into a poor family in Maharashtra, Parbhani. He was 11 years old. His parents had traveled to Himachal for work, but were crushed in a landslide. He didn’t know what to do, but decided to migrate to a safer place, and traveled east. But when he reached Kalyani, he became ill and very tired. He had no energy to go out and work or beg. But the cat found him and started bringing food. In the local school of Parbhani, he learnt to write, so he began writing notes. This was told to the police, who agreed to investigate. It was soon found out that Neel’s full name was Neel Doshi, his mother’s name was Naina Doshi and his father’s name was Nihit Doshi. After this, they started sending him to school, and he lives to be a hundred years.
Author – Navyaa Mathur, 9 years old from Hyderabad