Calcutta, Oct. 19: In May last year, 13-year-old Pradip Bag left home at Moyna, a nondescript village in East Midnapore, to play football. He did not return.
This afternoon, one-and-a-half-years later, neighbours spotted Pradip on the premises of the Nil Ratan Sarkar Medical College and Hospital here, sitting near the main entrance with a piece of bread in hand.
“I saw him while entering the hospital. He was sitting in dirt, eating bread. Initially, I was in a dilemma because he looked different. When I saw his eyes I was sure it was our Pradip, no one else,” said Badal Mandal, who came to see his nephew under treatment at the hospital.
In 18 months, Pradip has changed a lot. He is now afflicted with a speech problem. “I took a few minutes to identify him because of his grimy looks. He had visibly not bathed for a long time and the colour of his skin was hidden,” said Badal. “His right wrist had a swelling.”
Badal recalled the evening Pradip went missing. “It was the day of Jamai Sasthi. He went out as usual to the local playground for a football match. Late in the evening, his parents started a frantic search for their only son. We joined them. But our efforts were in vain.”
Pradip’s father, a farmer, knocked on the doors of several police stations in East Midnapore. “They spent a lot of money. A few months ago, they gave up hope,” said Chandan Mandal, a member of the Moyna panchayat who came with Badal to the city.
Pradip could not say anything about his whereabouts since he left home. In the face of a flurry of questions, he either kept mum or mumbled something unintelligible.
“We could understand him when he said ‘ami bhaat khabo (I will eat rice)’. He pointed to his stomach when we asked anything else,” said Chandan. The neighbours took Pradip to the pond on the hospital premises and gave him a wash. They brought him rice from a local eatery.
“We haven’t informed his parents yet. We tried to contact one of our neighbours at Moyna but the telephone was continuously engaged. We have decided to take him back. It will be a great surprise for his parents,” said Badal.
The three of them left for their village tonight.