'I heard the driver hatching a plan to sell me off'
Recalls 16-year-old runaway, who returned to city after a 7-day-long ordeal that took him to Amritsar in the back of a truck
A city boy who had gone missing on November 17 was restored to his family on Saturday, but not before his seven-day-long escapades took him all the way to the heart of Punjab. MiD DAY had reported on the missing boy in its November 24 edition (Still no trace of boy who went missing the day Thackeray died)’.
According to 16-year-old Ashwin Kumar Sharma’s account of his travels, he was picked up by a truck driver, who then drove him all the way to Punjab. On November 17, he left home around 12.30 pm for his coaching classes in Sion. He was apprehensive about going to class, as he had bunked the previous two sessions.
“I was going back home and at around 3.45 pm, a truck driver drove up and accosted me, saying, “Tu toh Punjab ka munda lagta hai, chal tujhe Punjab ghuma deta hu. (You seem to be a native of Punjab, let me show you around Punjab.)” “I don’t know what came over me, but I agreed to hoist myself onto the truck.
They made me sit at the back amidst the huge store of corn and rice. I was given a quilt and asked to squeeze in and sleep there. There were two passengers other than the driver. I travelled with them for four days. On the last day, I heard them whispering among each other that they couldn’t feed me forever, and that they could sell me off. I got very scared. When the truck stopped at a signal, I jumped out from the back of the truck,” said Ashwin.
He added that he would have to subsist only on fruit, as his ‘kidnappers’ didn’t him ask him to eat with them. Having jumped off the truck, he realised that he was in Amritsar. “I roamed the city for a day. I didn’t have money so I ate kheer from a langar and slept at the Amritsar railway station.
I haven’t ever travelled by train, so the thought of going home to Mumbai on a train didn’t cross my mind. The next day too, I walked the city streets. In the evening, I started feeling cold. I saw a public booth and dialled my mother’s number,” said Ashwin.
Just after he had dialled the number, the man at the PCO disconnected his call, realising that the boy didn’t have any money to pay for it. “I had no option but to leave the place. As I walked away crying, the man came running to tell me that someone had called back the PCO number and wanted to speak to me.
I took the phone call to realise that my uncle had called back, after my mother received a missed call on her phone. I explained the whole story to my family members,” said Ashwin. “The person manning the PCO then showed me the way to the Kotwali police station nearby, and from there I called my father.”
The next morning, Ashwin’s father, delirious with joy, travelled from Mumbai to be reunited with his son.
Sanjay Jagtap, assistant police inspector for Trombay police station, said that a search mission had been launched to locate Ashwin. They had distributed the photographs of the boy. “I got a call from the family on November 24 saying that they had had got a call from a public booth and they had a hunch that the boy was in Amritsar. I called the number of the public booth and instructed him to send the boy to the nearest police station. With the help of Kotwali police we could get the boy back to Mumbai,” he said.
Pannalal, assistant police inspector of Kotwali police station in Punjab, who helped contact Ashwin’s parents, said, “He was hungry and was weeping when someone dropped him at the police station. We gave him food and then made him talk to his father in Mumbai. His father came the next morning and took his son with him.”