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Summary/explaination: ‘Lost Spring’ is a fascinating but heartbreaking look at India’s grinding poverty and the generations of slum dwellers who have accepted poverty and exploitation as a way of life. It is not only a theoretical report on these people’s plight but also an evocative narrative that brings the rag-pickers and their way of life to life. From Seemapuri to Firozabad, child labourers live in poverty. In addition to dirt, drudgery, and the life of exploitation, they are exposed to a variety of health risks.
In the story Lost Spring, the author runs into Saheb every day in her neighbourhood, looking for treasure in the trash. He moved from Dhaka so long ago that he doesn’t remember anything about it. The frequent storms, according to his mother, had swept away their fields and home. As a result, they have relocated to the big city in the hopes of making a fortune. He stated that he digs garbage because he has nothing else to do. The author suggested he go to school, but Saheb said there were none in the area and that if one were built, he would attend. The writer joked that she would build one, not expecting Saheb to take it seriously for a second. A few days later, he approached her to see if her school was ready. Her flimsy promise had embarrassed her.
The author, who was familiar with Saheb, inquired about his name. He informed her that his name was Saheb-e-Alam, which he had no idea meant “lord of the universe.” Even if he had known, he would not have believed it. Saheb roamed the streets with a horde of other barefooted boys, appearing in the morning like birds and disappearing at noontime. Each of them was recognised by the author. She inquired of one of them as to why he was not wearing slippers. He simply replied that his mother did not take it from the shelf. Another quickly added that he would throw off his slippers if they were brought down from the shelf by his mother. Another said he had never owned a pair.
During her travels across the country, the author noticed that many children walked barefoot on village and city streets. She discovered that it was not always a lack of money, but rather a tradition of going barefoot, which could be traced back to their poverty.
The author recalls the priest’s son telling her a story. He used to go to the temple as a young schoolboy and ask for a pair of shoes. Thirty years later, the author returned to Udipi and its deserted temple. She came across the current priest’s home, as well as his young son, who was dressed in his school uniform, complete with shoes and socks. She recalled the other boy’s prayer to God after receiving a pair of shoes. He prayed that he would never lose them. Although the boy’s prayer was answered, cities are still teeming with ragpickers who go barefoot all day.
The author takes us to Seemapuri, a small village on the outskirts of Delhi. Despite its location on the outskirts of Delhi, it has no connection to the capital. In 1971, Saheb’s family, along with many others, fled Bangladesh. Seemapuri, which was once uninhabited, now has a number of mud structures with tin or tarpaulin roofs but no health or hygiene amenities. Ten thousand ragpickers live here with nothing more than a ration card that allows them to register to vote and buy grain. They did not come seeking an identity, but rather food for their families. That is why they were forced to flee their land of fields and rivers, where they frequently starved. Rag picking appeared to be Seemapuri’s only occupation, and it has since evolved into an art form. It provides them with a source of income, as well as daily bread and a place to sleep. For the children, it was more than just a means of survival.
They occasionally find a ten-rupee note in the garbage, according to Sahib. Such valuable catches motivate them to continue digging in the hopes of discovering more. For children and the elderly, garbage heaps have different meanings. For the elderly, it is a source of income, while for children, finding currency notes in the heaps is a wonderful discovery.
On a cold winter morning, the author noticed Saheb standing outside a neighbourhood club’s fenced gate, staring at young men playing tennis. Saheb admitted that he enjoyed the game but had to settle for watching it from the gate. He even admitted that when no one is around, the gatekeeper lets him in and lets him play on the swing. Someone had given him the tennis shoes he was wearing. It didn’t bother him that it had been used and discarded by someone else. It was a blessing for a young boy who had previously walked barefoot. However, the tennis game, which he adored, would always be out of reach. Saheb went on to work in a tea shop later. Although he received money as well as free meals, he lost his carefree life. He had a job but was no longer his own master.
Unlike Saheb, Mukesh refused to work for anyone. He desired to be his own master. He stated his desire to work as a mechanic. He was determined, and he could almost see himself living his fantasy. He was from Firozabad, where the art of making bangles has been passed down through generations. Families sat around the furnaces, welding glass and making bangles for the women of the entire country.
Mukesh’s family was also involved in the same occupation, oblivious to the dangers of child labour and the crime of putting children in such dangerous situations. Mukesh drove the author to his house through filthy lanes choked with garbage and shackles where humans and animals coexisted. His home was a dilapidated shack. A large pot of boiling spinach leaves was set on a firewood stove inside. Mukesh’s sister-in-law, a thin young woman, was preparing dinner for the entire family. She smiled at the writer but hid behind a wall when her father-in-law arrived. Mukesh’s father’s only accomplishment in life was teaching his sons the art of bangle making.
Mukesh’s grandmother, who had seen her husband go blind as a result of the glass dust, accepted her fate and stated that the family bangle-making lineage could not be broken because it was god-given. As they were born into a bangle-making caste, they had no other option. Young men push hand carts loaded with colourful bangles through the shantytown’s narrow streets, surrounded by heaps of them in their filthy yards. In the dim hutments, parents and children sit beside the flickering flames that shape and colour the glass circles. Their eyes appear to be more accustomed to darkness than to natural light. The majority of them gradually lose their vision.
As a young girl in a faded pink dress works with her grandmother on bangles, the author wonders if Savita, the young girl, understands the significance of the coloured bangles. It is considered very sacred because it represents an Indian woman’s married status. She might realise it one day when she becomes a bride. The elderly lady next to her was once a young bride who still wore the bangles despite having lost her sight. She had never eaten a proper meal in her life. Her husband could only provide them with a place to live.
The old man’s remark makes one wonder if he has accomplished something that others have not been able to do in their lifetime. He provided a place for his family to live. The problem was widespread; every household was affected. The young lament in the same way that their fathers do. In Firozabad, nothing seemed to have changed, and the drudgery and toil had stifled and killed their initiative, as well as their ability to dream.
The author proposed the formation of cooperatives to break free from the vicious circle of middlemen who have always fleeced and exploited them. The bangle makers, on the other hand, spoke of their helplessness as a result of being victimised and tortured by the police, who collaborated with the middlemen whenever they attempted to band together and form a cooperative. Because they had no one to guide them, their lives were doomed to poverty and injustice.
The author could see two worlds here: one of perpetual suffering, to which the bangle makers belonged, and another of the nexus between middlemen, cops, bureaucrats, and politicians. Both worlds have piled unnecessary weight on the young man’s shoulders. He accepts the burden with the same ease as his father. There was no indication of rebellion or deviation. Mukesh was the only person who took the risk. He was set on becoming a mechanic and learning to drive. He was prepared to walk from his house to the garage, which was a long distance away. He had no desire to fly an aeroplane and was content with his car fantasies, which he thought were more realistic. Moreover, they have not seen many planes flying over Firozabad.
Textual questions and answers
Think as you read-I
1. What is Saheb looking for in the garbage dumps? Where is he and where has he come from?
Answer: In the garbage dumps, Saheb looks for some interesting finds, such as currency notes. In the story Lost Spring, he lives with his parents in Seemapuri, on the outskirts of Delhi. He had travelled from Dhaka with his parents.
2. What explanation does the author offer for children not wearing any footwear?
Answer: For children in most Indian villages and cities, walking barefoot has almost become a tradition. The author, however, explains that the tradition stems from their extreme poverty.
3. Is Saheb happy working at the tea stall? Explain.
Answer: Though Saheb has a better life working at a tea shop where he also gets food in addition to a salary, his face has lost its carefree appearance. He is no longer in control of himself.
Think as you read-II
1. What makes the city of Firozabad famous?
Answer: The glass bangle industry is well-known in Firozabad.
2. Mention the hazards of working in the glass bangles industry.
Answer: Glass bangle workers must work in high-temperature glass furnaces in cramped rooms with no ventilation or natural light. Such conditions can result in permanent blindness at a young age.
3. How is Mukesh’s attitude to his situation different from that of his family?
Answer: Mukesh was born into a family of bangle makers. Despite the fact that the trade brought them grinding poverty, they accepted it as a god-given lineage. Mukesh was adamant about breaking with tradition and pursuing his dream of becoming a mechanic.
Understanding the text
1. What could be some of the reasons for the migration of people from villages to cities?
Answer: The ability to earn a living is the primary reason for migration. Secondary reasons include improved working conditions, infrastructure, a better lifestyle, and more job opportunities.
2. Would you agree that promises made to poor children are rarely kept? Why do you think this happens in the incidents narrated in the text?
Answer: Promises made for the uplift of poor children are rarely kept in a country like ours, which is riddled with corruption and hypocrisy. Child labour is clearly visible everywhere. In fact, the author describes a location on the outskirts of the country’s capital. Crimes against children abound, even in Delhi. There are no schools for these children, and if there are, they are without teachers. Organisations like UNICEF have their funds stolen and diverted. The Sivakashi fireworks factories are a perfect example of how hollow this country’s anti-child labour promises are. Young children work as domestic helpers in tea shops, garages, carpet factories, and bangle factories.
There are numerous other examples of promises that were not kept. Children are forced to work in such deplorable conditions due to their extreme poverty, making them easy targets for exploitation. Poverty, on the other hand, is the result of an expanding population.
3. What forces conspire to keep the workers in the bangle industry of Firozabad in poverty?
Answer: There is a strong nexus of cops, middlemen, politicians, bureaucrats, and law enforcement who work together to keep bangle industry workers in abject poverty so that they cannot raise their voices in protest. Those who attempted to form a workers’ cooperative have frequently been tortured by the police.
Talking about the text
1. How, in your opinion, can Mukesh realise his dream?
Answer: If Mukesh maintains his focus, he will succeed. He was born into a poor family in Firozabad and was destined to work as another pair of hands in the bangle factory. He, on the other hand, had other ideas and was determined to follow his dream. He would need a strong will to break from tradition because he would be under a lot of pressure from his family to continue their lineage.
2. Mention the hazards of working in the glass bangles industry.
Answer: Working in a glass bangle factory is hazardous to one’s mental and physical health. The constant exposure to the high temperature of the furnace, glass dust everywhere, and broken glass pieces piercing through the barefoot causes workers in these filthy rooms to lose their eyesight at a young age. Cuts and burns are relatively common. Asthma, bronchitis, liver problems, severe vision problems, and mental retardation are all common ailments among workers.
Additional/extra questions and answers/solutions
1. What is the irony in Saheb’s name?
Answer: Ironically, Saheb’s name is Saheb-e-Alam, which translates to “Lord of the Universe.” In the story Lost Spring, he walks around the streets barefoot, scavenging the trash heaps, completely unaware of its meaning.
2. Why do children walk around the streets barefoot in the story Lost Spring?
Answer: On the streets of cities and villages, the author observed poor children walking barefoot. Some believe it was due to tradition rather than a lack of money. It was, however, most likely an excuse to justify their abject poverty.
3. What did the author see in Udipi during her visit?
Answer: In the story Lost Spring, the author noticed the deserted temple and nearby priest’s house when she visited Udipi. The current priest’s son, unlike the previous priest’s son, wore a neat school uniform with shoes and socks.
13. How do children and adults look at trash?
Answer: Scrounging through garbage heaps is a common occupation among slum dwellers in Seemapuri and elsewhere. They appear in droves in the morning and vanish by noon, each carrying a bag. Years of practice have helped them master the art of tag-picking. It’s the elderly’s only hope of surviving. It provides food and shelter for them. To them, garbage is gold. However, the children value it even more. Finding money in these dumps is a wonderful discovery and a wonderful surprise. A single silver coin piques their interest and encourages them to continue digging.
14. Describe the Firozabad bangle makers. Why haven’t they been able to break free from the vicious circle?
Answer: Firozabad is known for its glass bangle industry, which is located in a dry and dusty town. Every family has ties to the industry in some way. Those who work in factories are the poorest. As a family tradition, everyone in the family learns the trade. The working environment is hazardous, and the living conditions are deplorable. 20,000 children spend their days working in hot furnaces with no light or ventilation. They frequently lose their eyesight as a result of glass dust and unsanitary conditions, as well as other physical and mental ailments.
Due to a lack of leadership, workers have been unable to form a cooperative. The middlemen are extremely powerful, and they have police support. Anyone who raises their voice is apprehended and tortured. A powerful nexus of police, middlemen, law enforcers, bureaucrats, and politicians form an impenetrable vicious circle.
15. What distinguishes Mukesh from others, according to the author in the story Lost Spring? Is it a good or bad thing?
Answer: Mukesh came from a poor bangle-making family. He and his family lived in a half-built shack. In the story Lost Spring, the author observed an entire family of emaciated people living in a house with only a roof over their heads. Mukesh was also supposed to carry on the family tradition of making bangles, but he had other plans. He aspired to be a mechanic and even learn to drive a car. Mukesh was determined to walk the distance between his house and the garage where he would work.
Mukesh made a wise decision. He dared to think differently and deviate from tradition. People like Mukesh have the potential to bring about needed change.
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