The story of
Twinkle, twinkle, little eyes.
Unfortunately, one can see many children living on the streets of every major city in my native country, Bangladesh. In the local language, Bangla, these street urchins are known as ´tokai´.
Fittingly, my country’s most enduring cartoon character is also a street urchin. Tokai, as he has always been named, has for the past three decades scrounged for the scraps of society, taking the worst the world has to offer with a smile and a simple wit that has never failed to win the hearts of his readers. He gathers things like rags, plastic bags, and empty water bottles, and depends on the leftovers of others, or food thrown away in dustbins for survival. His companions are other tokais, street curs and the crows. He is ten years old.
I first encountered Tokai on the cartoon’s 25th anniversary celebration at a gallery where many drawings of Tokai were being exhibited. The organizers had also brought in several hundred actual tokais for the event. So we talked to them; we questioned, and they shared. I was immediately struck by the simple way these tokais expressed their pain, their thoughts, and their simple desires. When someone asked a tokai, "hey, how many times do you eat?” she responded simply "many times, sir! But only in my mind!” an answer ironically both funny and heartrendingly sad.
They ate that day, and not a single person in the room could miss the twinkle in their laughing eyes. Just a simple meal and a hug, and the tokais eyes lit up like Times Square on Christmas Eve.
The spirit of the evening was lifted by performances by celebrity singers, who made the children dance and sing in chorus. Soon a pleasant drizzle began, but the rain could not stop those children from expressing their joy and delight. The air sizzled with energy, with heartfelt appreciation, and with genuine laughter. The hardest of hearts melted at the sight of those little children, dressed in little more than rags, dancing...