The ATM boy…

It was late winter night, one of the chilliest in otherwise delightful Pune climate. Streets were empty and there was mild fog that took a yellow tinge of streetlights…..

I had worked till late and was heading home, when I realized my bike was low on petrol. I turned to the nearest filling station and like every time, I was the last customer to slip through, before the barricades were moved out with a closed sign.

The attendant asked for cash because card swipe machines had been closed for the night. I had no cash in my purse. The attendant agreed to wait till I could take some cash out from an ATM in the same premise.

It was late, cold and I was in too much rush. I fumbled to shove my card into the machines throat that choked again and again, rejecting my card. From the corner of my eye, I saw him get up from a chair, meant for ATM security personnel. Quietly he took my card and somehow machine accepted it from him! He was back to his chair before I could take the cash out and turn to thank him.

But I turned and stopped at the sight of bizarre scene. The lanky and tall boy looked much younger, pouring over a heavy stack of notes, quite unaware of my presence in the same ATM cabin. I tried to take a peek but could not make out what he was reading.

I asked him, “What is it that you are reading?”

He looked up with the same serene swiftness that he had dealt the ATM machine with, “study notes”

An ATM security guard, studying on duty in the middle of the night…?

“what is it that you are studying for?”

“UPSC exam”

(It is a very very tough exam that selects government officials in India. Those who get through UPSC are appointed on crucial governance posts)

The boy had come from a remote drought prone village. He spent his day in tuitions and study circles and worked at night as ATM security guard. The night job gave him accommodation in ATM cabin and a monthly paycheck….

I did have so many more questions to ask, about his family and why he wanted to do all this in the first place…..But I managed to remember that the petrol station attendant was waiting for me, I should rush out to pay him….

I wished luck to the strange boy and he replied in well-practiced English. My tired, irritated mood had suddenly moved into such warm glowing elation!

Every time I think of him, I wish, he would become a smart, strict officer very soon. He would take decisions that will improve a million lives and stop wrong practices, bribes and corruption…..

Every time at the office, we work on designs of institutional campuses I think of that boy…. I want to build facilities for him…. I want to watch him studying in well-lit, warm classrooms and dormitories….not in a shabby, cold ATM cabin…. not anymore.