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Creation and Criticism

 ISSN: 2455-9687 

(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal

Devoted to English Language and Literature)

Vol. 02, Issue 05 : April 2017

Begging Children in Shobha De’s ‘Superstar India: From Incredible To Unstoppable’

Madhu Bala Saxena  



Shobha De is a renowned author of Indian Fiction in English. She knows well how to depict Indian life and society in her popular work ‘Superstar India: From Incredible To Unstoppable’, particularly the problems of begging and the consequent results of beggary on a developing country. She is surprised to see and observe that in spite of Independence and other significant revolutions in our country, India could not be able to eradicate poverty and, therefore, fails to stop the begging practices of small children.


Key Words: Begging Children, poverty, beggary, pitiable condition, realistic life.


Shobha De is a celebrated writer of the contemporary India. She creates and recreates Indian society in her mighty works with an extraordinary knack of painting reality and truth at a same time. Therefore, no  aspect  or  feature, pleasant  as  well as  unpleasant,   of  the  society  is  left  unobserved  in her works. Because  of  her  realistic social  painting  in bold  strokes, she  has  secured a promising place amongst the  most prominent and prestigious authors of Contemporary  Indian  English Literature.  


Shobha De has penned mainly novels that are best selling.  She is addicted to writing.  Before writing ‘Superstar India: From Incredible To Unstoppable’, David Davidar from Penguin office asked   about her planning of a new book. She instantly replied, “I am always planning a new book” (Superstar India vii).  This  time  her plan  was  to  write an India book.  She declared, “An India book.  I must have  sounded  pretty  impassioned as I  took  off on  how  I feel about the  country….and  my  own  life,  seen  through that  filter,  given the  fact and  I are the  same age.” (vii). Her book soon came into market and achieved immense popularity.


In this work, she has portrayed with her pen brush so many images of India- bright and dark. She  draws the clumsy image of India and compares  the affluent  with the penniless, monuments  with  jhuggis  and jhopadies, industrial  area  with rural surroundings, the natural  setting  of  villages  with  great  infrastructure, great  communication  system, glittering  malls, delirious  shoppers  packed  food,  dazzling  sound  of  cars,  clothes,  bathrooms  tiles  of  big  cities. This is  India where on  one  side  people  are leading  a  luxurious  life with every  comfort of  life but no  peace  of  mind and  on  the other  side  people  are standing  in queue  with  bowls  in  their  hands  to  get  something  from  the  pockets  of the  rich  fellows. The Economic  Times  remarks, “Vintage  Shobha  De  with  scathing  take- offs  on  everything, from the  caste  system  to  male  chauvinism,  from  sex  to  social  pretension…. in  other  words,  it  is  all  great  fun.”  Here  a  small  portion  of  the  book  has  been  selected  in  order to  see  Shobha  De’s  portrayal  of  begging  children  in  free and  so-called  economically  developed  India.   


Even  after  70  years  old  free  India,  the  condition  of  the  children  of  the needy  is  very  pitiable. They  from  their  infancy have  to  learn  to live  empty  stomachs   and  any  how  they  grow   up  as  children,  they  are  sent  to  earn  their  food.   Shobha   De   is very much shocked that the children of free India are not getting their dues.  Once  she  visits  Agra on  the eve of  Christmas, she gets  an  opportunity  of  watching  the children- the poor  children who are  deprived of their human  right  of  getting  education  because  of  their parents’ penury. At  an  early  age, they  are  compelled  by  their  parents to  work  to fill  their bellies  themselves. Child  labour  is  rampant in every  corner  of  the  country particularly  in metro cities or highly  industrial  areas where there  is  much  need  of  work  force.  Shoba  De writes  in  her  book,  whatever  she observes  in  Agra ,  a  KAVAL town, famous  for stone  work  and  leather  work, “Children  who’d  never been  inside  a  schoolroom  were  lifting  stones  and  sweeping  the  discarded  dust  from  finished grilles.  Their   earnings were pitiful.  Their eyes blank, their bellies bloated. ‘But at least they aren’t starving,’ Mr.  Dubey (a hired guide) said thoughtfully.  Yes, at least they weren’t starving”(7).  De seems surprised to hear his words. Our  country  government  is  satisfied  with  providing  physical need  i. e  food to  children, but not  mental  food  to them.


Begging is an earning means of children in India. They  are thrust in this  at  their  age  of  playing  and  studying  either  by their needy  parents  or  by  some  culprits  who pick  them  from their  schools  or  playgrounds. This heinous practice of earning is nowhere seen so much as in India.  Here are the   poor   persons of every age; sex and disability are indulged in this profession. Male,  female, children, youths  and  old  of the poor  category  choose it as an easy  way  to  earn for  supporting their  life.  Man can live without education but not without food.   Shobha De  tells  a  fellow  traveler during  her  journey  to  Mumbai,  “Maims, kids, lepers, drunks, drug addicts…peddlers...take your  pick” (15). Begging  in  India  has  turned  into   a  profession and  for  the sake  of  its flourishing, so  many  ways are  being adopted  by  its starters  and leaders. The children   are  picked up  or  stolen from  the  roads,  parks, schools, markets,  bus stands,  railway  stations. They fall into  the  clutches of culprits who provide  training of  begging in  the custody  of more wicked  persons  in lock up without  food  and  water.  Shobha  De writes  in  her book, “Now  that  we  know  that  beggars  come  under the  organized  sector, and  work  systematically  for  other  beggars  who  control  territories, …” (15).


In the present time the whole process has changed. One or two decades ago, begging was done in a very simple manner. The beggars used to beg door to door.  They  were  often  seen  sitting  on  the  roadsides, platforms  of temples,  mosques,  churches and  the pavements  in front of bus stand  and railway  station. They rarely ran away to take away the bag and baggage of the travelers. But today the scenario of begging is completely changed. It is converted into stealing.   It has become more complicated as the beggars are alert, bold, smart and skilled in this art.  Shobha  De comments on  this art  of begging and imagines  of more expert beggars  in  future: “Now, they bang on the car.  Tomorrow, they’ll feel bolder…. Maybe they’ll throw a rock… drag you out and strip off your jewellery...” (16).


From  the  very  outset, children  are taught  how  to  beg  or steal  or  snatch the  things  from the strangers. They have become imposters. The  children  are sent  with  a bunch  of  flowers  and  a small pile of books in their  hands  at the traffic  signals  to sell  but  their mission is  to  grab some valuables from  the car  seat. These  words of  Shobha De  say  the same  thing, “Often the  tiny  tots  selling flowers  or books  at  traffic  signals  barely  come  up  to  the  window. A small  hand  is  raised,  clutching  gajras of  fragrant  jasmine,  or  a  bunch  of  paper Indian  flags.  Soon  a  grubby  face  follows… the kid  is  on tip-toe and staring  at  a shiny  object on  the car  seat… perhaps  a  glistening  mobile  phone  or an iPod. Sometimes, the  fascination  is  reserved for  the  watch  on  the  wrist , or  pretty bangles.  There is no attempt to sell or beg” (16). The  tiny  beggars  are  so  smart,  alert  and  cunning  that  as  soon  as  they get  a  chance, they  run  away  to  pick away  costly  gadgets  from  the car  seat. Such  events are  so  common now-a-days  that  people ignore  them  thinking as an  usual matter.


In our country, there is no lacking of talent. Indians utilize their talent in every work- good as well as bad.  In this matter, men folk are mastermind. They  remain behind  the  curtain and get  their  work  done  by  their wives  or  children.  In case of beggary, others’ females or children are mostly employed. A pen-portrait of child begging is drawn by Shobha De in the following lines: “It is heart-breaking and poignant. Sometimes,  you  see  teenage  mothers,  children  themselves,  with  infants strapped  to  their  chest in  improvised  slings made  out  of old  sarees. The matted hair, hollow eyes and twig like bodies suggest disease and malnutrition- perhaps, full-blown AIDS. The infant with a bloated belly is barely alive” (16). What do these child female in this pose? They are forced by their gang master to beg or steal;  whatever  they can  do,  they  have  to  bring  money  for  him.


Begging requires some qualities in the children.  They  must  be  gifted  with  melodious  but  heart  rendering voice  so that they may  succeed in captivating the hearers by  their painful  song. Their masters make them learn hit Bollywood songs; ask them to sing with dance. Besides, these child beggars must be very active, fearless and prompt in crossing the road while the heavy vehicles are running in full swing.  Shobha  De says, ”You  watch  the  intrepid  kids  darting  between  whizzing limos, deftly avoiding motorcyclists and auto-rickshaws, a monster BEST  bus …. Often  they’re  singing  the  latest Bollywood hit  ’Krazy Kiya  Re’… and  shaking  their  hips  to  the rhythm” (17).  De is amazed to see their energy, activity and joviality.  She questioned herself, “Where does that enviable spirit come from?  How come I don’t smile, sing or dance as much?” (17).


 It is a serious matter because a child is the father of a man. He is   the maker of the country. The progress and prosperity of a family, a society and a country lies in the hands of a child.  De observes, “The future is here- and it is appallingly youthful.  These are the new kids on the block.  India’s hopes, dreams and aspirations rest with them” (xi).  So  if  he  is deprived of  his  rights  by  the  government,  neglected by  the  society,   spoiled  and  misused  by  the rogues , the  dream of  bright future of  the country  is  futile.  The  economic   boom, IT  triumphs and rise  of  Sensex cannot  please, if by  their side,  our children  are standing in  naked  body  with  empty  bowls  in  their  hands , begging  bread, stealing costly  gadgets from somebody’s vehicle.  It is very shameful.  Shobha De exclaims, “They stand like pathetic reminders of our national shame, under gigantic billboards proclaiming proudly, ‘India Poised.’  ‘2008 is India’s Moment.’ Poised for what?  The moment celebrating which aspect of ourselves? The sexy Sensex?  The booming economy? Our IT triumphs?” (17). A  few  selected  millionaires  and  billionaires  cannot  wipe  the spot  of   shame  from  the face  of  free  India. India  is  becoming global  and a few  Indians  are  in  the  race of  winning the  global  badge  of  recognition;  but  a  few  cannot  make  the  country  great.  There  is  the  utmost  need  of  eradication  of  poverty through the  escape  of  the child  beggars from  the  clutches  of  the culprits  in order to abolish  the evil of  beggary rampant in our society.


Work Cited:


De, Shobha.  Superstar India: From Incredible To Unstoppable. Delhi: Penguin Books, 2008. Print.



About the Author:


Dr Madhu Bala Saxena (1953) worked as Professor and Head of English Department of IFTM University, Moradabad and Associate Professor and Head of English Department of M.H.P.G. College, Moradabad, U.P. She is M.A. in Sanskrit and English and her doctoral degree in English is on ‘Treatment of Human Relations in the Novels of Somerset Maugham.’ She has been writing research papers and book reviews for various journals and magazines and guiding research scholars of English Literature for the last thirty five years. Her main interest lies in Indian Literature in English, particularly in Indian English Fiction. She can be contacted at


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