What does life have in store for Rahim?

At 15 this Kerala student is clinging on to a fishing net to run his 4-member family
news Human Interest Friday, March 31, 2017 - 19:12

Dressed in a full-sleeve t-shirt and lungi, 15-year-old Rahim steps out of his home in Thiruvananthapuram's Kadinamkulam, clutching a fishing net wrapped in a tattered cloth. 

Stepping out of his home at 4 in the morning, the Class 10 student shows little indication of having to carry the responsibility of running his four-member family. Since the past two years, Rahim has been fending for his family, after his father Iqbal took ill. 

His day holds not many surprises, Rahim tells The News Minute. He leaves home early in the morning every day, and two kilometers away, lies the lake that has been his family's lifeline, ever since they moved to the one-room house in Kadinankulam five years ago. Once there, Rahim hops onto his canoe and goes into the lake in search of fortune. 

Two hours later, Rahim sprints to the nearby fish market to sell his day's catch. On a good day, he manages to earn at least Rs 400, Rahim says excitedly. With the rupee notes neatly tucked away in his pocket, Rahim runs home to see his friends waiting for him to proceed to school. 

On returning home from school, Rahim once again takes the fishing net and proceeds to the lake. 

This has been the Class 10 student's daily routine for the last couple of years, after his 61-year-old father Iqbal suffered a cardiac arrest, which forced him to quit work. He has since not been able to do the only work he knows- fishing. 

But for the family, it was only natural for Rahim to step in to his father’s shoes when he took ill, his mother Shylaja says. 

After all, Rahim has been going to the lake since the young age of 8, the 37-year-old woman says. 

"It is not a cause for worry that Rahim goes to the lake every day to catch fish. He had been tagging along with his father since he was 8 years old and that has made him familiar with the water. Despite all this, a mother needs no special reason to worry about her children," Shylaja admits. 

The family

The family has been living under a roof for not more than five years now. Homeless, the family spent more than ten years sleeping on the pavements, Shylaja says. 

Good fortune came their way when a passerby offered his one-room house on rent to the family. They have been living in the house ever since, despite the leaking roof and having to light up a kerosene lamp to illuminate what they call their home.

Education

Although Iqbal is relieved that Rahim "knows his responsibilities," at a young age, he worries for his son more often, than he likes to admit. 

His education remains the primary concern and Iqbal fears that Rahim would some day follow in his father's footsteps. 

"I don't want to see my son follow my path.... I dropped out of school when I was 8 and education has never been my family's priority. But it has to end with me, I don't want Rahim to live the life of a fisherman, especially since he is not bad at studies," Iqbal says. 

Does he not feel it is child labour, making his young son pick up the fishing net instead of a pen? 

"I have had a few people argue with me on this. They said that I was being too harsh. But what choice do we have? Will they help us build a home? Nobody wants to answer that," Iqbal rues. 

Rahim will appear for his final SSLC exam on Thursday and the month of March has not been easy on the family. 

"With my board examinations going on, I couldn't go fishing regularly. After my exams end tomorrow, I will again be back to the lake," Rahim announces. 

Unlike other children who would be looking for productive ways to spend their summer vacations, Rahim will pick up his fishing net and venture into the lake. Be it summer or winter, the 15-year-old has the lake as his constant companion. 

After a few regional media outlets reported Rahim's story, several people reached out to the family with financial aid. 

Rahim and his 16-year-old sister Yasmine study in the same class. Some people have also offered to sponsor the siblings' education and send them to a hostel so that they can concentrate on academics. 

While Rahim says that he wants to be a software engineer when he "grows up", Yasmin is quite confident when she declares that she wants to be an IAS officer.

(All photographs by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair)

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