Anchored to an unknown port | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 08, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:34 AM, April 08, 2020

Anchored to an unknown port

His Friday mornings are spent looking at the Kirtankhola river, sitting along Barishal Launch Ghat pontoon, waiting for launches to arrive, with a weariness on his face. The moment one arrives, he will hop on-board or wait near the exit to sell water bottles to passengers.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, selling water would suffice for him to get through the day. Back during normal times, he would have no time to sit on the pontoon as launches kept arriving and departing all day.

His name is Kalu; just Kalu, nothing before or after. He looks like he's 10 to 12 years of age. This guess is all that this correspondent could muster, for the boy has no idea about the time or place of his birth.

Kalu could only vaguely offer some details of his parents. His mother had died several years ago and the last time they saw each other, his father was a rickshaw-puller in Brahmanbaria.

The boy made his way to the banks of Kirtankhola around a year ago, and somewhat completely by chance. One day, a friend wanted to go to Dhaka's Sadarghat from Brahmanbaria and Kalu just went along with him. From there, they boarded a Barishal-bound launch and that was that.

From then, he has been living at the ghat -- no house, no address, nothing. "I live here and sleep on the pontoon," Kalu said. Anyone who comes to the ghat regularly has probably seen Kalu going up and down the place all day.

"What about food?" this correspondent asked.

"If I get food, I eat. If not, I don't," Kalu answered.

Asked about his father Kalu said he has no information on him but knows that he's not looking for him.

Somewhat bizarrely, the boy who sleeps on a pontoon has somehow made a name for himself as a cook among his peers. Sometimes, he will cook whatever he can and share it with his fellows at the ghat. Though the menu may not be full of delicacies, the occasions surely bring some joy to the children from nowhere.

And Kalu likes living like this too. He boldly told this correspondent about his love for the river, launches and how he would rather not be anywhere else.

Though he doesn't know letters, he knows the names of all the launches and their routes -- a little out of necessity, and a little out of affection.

"I want to stay here -- it makes me happy," he said, somewhat emphatically.

This correspondent could only make the time to talk to Kalu, and look at all the stories that came out of this one conversation.

With around 200 street children living at the launch ghat, imagine how many more stories wander through the place every day.

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