Six-year-old Monu does not know how to write English. Even his knowledge of Hindi, his mother tongue, is basic. But throw at him a sentence in Japanese, Tibetan or Thai lingo, or strike a conversation with him in English, and his face lights up.
Monu has “mastered” the spoken forms of south-east Asian and several other overseas languages. The child is a pan-handler, a beggar, to whom fluency in foreign languages like Japanese, Tibetan, Thai and English means drawing more alms from tourists from distant lands.
The boy, along with many other similarly “gifted” kids, works on streets close to numerous monasteries that dot the international Buddhist pilgrimage centre of Bodh Gaya in Bihar.
His father, Harnandan, who works in a Laotian monastery at Bodh Gaya, is unlettered. Yet, he has taught his son to speak Laotian, Japanese and English languages so that he could beg and fetch foreign currencies.
Like Monu, five-year-old Lakhan has also learnt English, Korean and Japanese languages to “target” tourists for alms. Lakhan’s father and his mother work as sweepers in different monasteries of Bodh Gaya.
Monu and Lakhan are not alone in making their foreign language proficiency a passport to a better life. There are dozens of kids hailing from hamlets located close to Bodh Gaya – like Rampur, Katorava, Mastipur, Mianbigha, Bakaraur and Dalerbigha, who are in this profitable trade.
“What is common among these kids is their craving for dollars. Most of them have learnt the one-liner, ‘No father no mother please give me a dollar’, projecting themselves as orphans to fetch more alms,” said an official.