Chickens Everywhere

Feeling tired, still recovering from the holiday and trying to get used to being back in Mumbai and working in the slum. I took the rickshaw, sharing with two rather large ladies and for some reason, found myself squashed between the both of them. As usual, I arrived at the crowded railway station where I had to get an overcrowded train to the station nearest my work.

Nothing much different from any other day when I go to work. The train did feel perhaps a little more crowed than usual, but other than that, nothing seemed more than I had got used to travelling to work.

As I stood with the smells I had become accustomed to everywhere, I looked out on the track, as the train moved along from one station to the next. Looking out onto the track is never dull and every day there is always something new and interesting to see. The railway track often doubles up as the toilet and, if I felt I had the stomach for such observations, I would often see all ages and genders emptying their bowels. The first time I saw such a spectacle, I was in shock; now I just look and it doesn’t even seem to affect me.

The railway track is not only used as a toilet, but also as a dumping ground. Just like I mentioned before, when describing the rivers that are used to throw anything away you can imagine, the railway tracks are the same. Plastic being the one material that is notable: plastic bottles everywhere. Here you see the children and women risking their lives, walking over the live railway track to collect these bottles to exchange them for just enough money to keep themselves alive. I look and I know that these are similar ages to the young children I teach in the slum. Children that can’t afford to go to school that have to collect rubbish to survive. But these are not the children I teach, only because they live in a different area, and live further up the track.

Amongst the pure madness of plastic and filth, there are always animals. Rats, cats, dogs and even cows. All rummaging amongst the rubbish to see if they can find something to eat. I often look out to see what animals I can see; crows are usually in abundance. But this day I see an animal that is rare in these parts, a pig. Not a pink pig, but a grey pig with a black saddle on its back, reminiscent of the British ‘Saddleback Pig’ The last time I saw one of these creatures was at a farm park in Suffolk, where I used to take my two sons to look at farm animals. This was unusual and it made me smile, but as the train moved closer, there was something on its back. It was a chick, a baby chicken just sitting there as if to say look at me. It made me smile further, and I thought Only in Khush India.

I arrived at the slum and the children were all waiting for me. It seemed that Maria, the teacher, was late and didn’t feel too well. I started the lesson as she walked in late and just sat down and watched.  It was a lesson on verbs. I wasn’t sure how much the children learnt, but they loved to repeat what I said and, as always, we all smiled.

Just before we had a break, the cleaner Chitra, who lived next door to the classroom, entered the classroom. She often did this, sometimes joining in with the lesson, other times she would clean around the children as they sat on the floor. But this time she had come into the classroom to show me Colin the chicken, the class pet. As I was teaching, she just let the chicken go and Colin tried to fly around the children’s head, as I was trying to explain that the past tenses of most verbs ended in -ed.  After a while, Colin would get tired with flying and would just walk around the classroom, making funny noises and walking, extending his neck in and out, just like chickens do. The children were unfazed and continued to look at me expecting me to continue delivering the lesson. However, I was in shock, jumping out of Colin’s way, trying not to laugh or panic. Finally, Colin was caught by Chitra and put back into his washing basket coop, with a silver train on top of the basket. I had never felt comfortable about the way Colin was kept, but trying to explain this sentiment would not be easily and I would probably be misunderstood. As the cleaner left the classroom, I returned to teaching the lesson, with Maria still sitting down, smiling. I was sure Colin’s adventure in the classroom had been purely for my benefit, and for Chitra to see my facial expressions as the chicken caused chaos in the classroom.

Chitra and Maria with Colin the class pet.

It was lunch time and I sat on the floor eating my fruit as all the other teachers spoke together in Hindi. Here I would just sit and think about this unreal situation I found myself in. I thought more about the children I had seen earlier walking on the railway track, knowing that the children that I had just taught would now being off doing the same rubbish collecting to survive.

I wanted to do something to help these children, maybe I could raise some money someway to buy some books, to educate them, to ease them out of poverty. Maybe, I thought, I could walk across India on my own; that would certainly raise some money.

Thoughts continued as I sat in isolation. Then, from the corner of my eye, I saw something move outside the classroom that was used as the staff dining room. At first I thought it was Colin, but I realised we were on the other side of the tower block and nowhere near the classroom, so it could not be Colin. I walked out into the corridor and I saw a bright yellow chick sitting, looking out of window in the room next door, where a family lived. I stood and watched and then I saw a white chick; so pure white it looked unreal. I was just about to walk back into the staff room and continue my solo thinking, when another chick appeared. This one was bright pink. I was shocked – I had never seen a pink chick in my life, but then, why would I have?

I returned to the staff room and explained to Maria what I had just seen, she just laughed. I asked why people would have such coloured chicks.  She explained they liked the look of them. She said that they were made that colour to look good so people would buy them. I sat there again, all ears and mouth wide open. I was learning again. She said that they were dyed those colours. I thought why would you dye a chick pink? Then I thought about it a bit more logically; how were they dyed? Maria explained that as soon as the chicks are hatched, cotton cloths dipped in dye are wrapped around their bodies so that after a couple of days, the whole chick is permanently dyed whatever colour is desired.

I then thought about this odd situation even further.  Surely, as the chick grows, the pink colour will remain, but as it grows, the newer feathers closer to the skin will be of its original natural colour. So when the chick grows into a chicken, it will be white with the feathers furthest away from the skin remaining pink. If it stays with the family as a pet, I can’t imagine a white and pink chicken looking good.  Would the owners think it looks cute anymore? So what happens to these dyed pink chicks, these pets once they get older? Being pets can’t be an option. So the pink chick is kept until it no longer looks pink and then used for food. But the idea of killing a pink and white chicken and turning it into a curry can only be described absurd.

That’s enough about chickens for one day!

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