Theory:

The story "Children at work" was about an eleven-year-old boy named Velu. Velu was the protagonist of the story.
 
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Velu, the hero of the story
 
"Children at work" begins like Velu was getting down at Chennai Central from the Kanyakumari express. Chennai Central is also known as Puratchi Thalaivar Dr M.G. Ramachandran Central railway station. It is the most important railway terminus in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. It is also known as the busiest railway station in South India.
 
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Chennai Central railway station
 
Velu tried to get down from the train. As Velu had no experience in the train journey, he took some time to come out from the train. Finally, Velu stood on the railway platform, but his legs started shivering like he was standing on a running train. While Velu was standing on the railway platform, he heard a loud voice. Someone behind his back was shouting at him like, "Oy! out of the way!". Velu turned his head to see who was screaming. Velu saw a porter. A porter is a person who carries luggage or things from a train for his livelihood. The porter had a loaded trolley (in his hands), and it was too heavy. Velu was standing on the way without giving space for the porter to move his load. So, the porter shouted at him. On seeing the loaded trolley, Velu jumped out to give way for the porter.

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A porter
 
Velu was standing for a long time, and he felt very tired. So he sat on a bench and thought of resting for a while. Since it was a railway station, people from different places would arrive at the railway station to board their train. The railway platform was crowded with lots of people. Velu was amazed because this was the second time he saw a huge crowd; the first one was at his village fair. It is a festival where a group of people from different places come to see the fair. Velu was sitting quietly and watching the crowd on the platform; he did not know anyone because he was new to Chennai city.
 
The people in the railway station were carrying heavy trolleys and suitcases. When they were passing Velu, they hit him with heavy luggage.
 
Usually, in railway stations, announcements will be made. For instance, if the passengers want to travel from one place to another through railway transportation, the railway officers will be announcing the platform number, name of the train and train number. It makes the passengers to identify the train easily. Velu heard such an announcement on a loudspeaker, and he was not sure what the person was speaking.
 
Velu felt irritated and miserable due to the large crowd and the loud noises from the television. After a while, Velu bent down his head over the knees, as he felt very dull and tired.
 
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Velu put his head down on his knees
 
Velu felt very tired because he had not eaten anything except a few peanuts and some jaggery. (Jaggery is a variety of sweet used in many South Indian dishes like payasam to give an excellent taste)
 
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Jaggery
 
Velu carried a small bag with him before leaving his village. Velu took a shirt, comb, and a towel in the bag.
 
After getting out of his home, Velu had walked a long way and reached a place called "Kanur". From Kanur, he decided to reach a railway station. After reaching the railway station, Velu saw a train, and it was the Kanyakumari express. The train would reach Chennai Central by the next day. To travel on a train, one must carry a train ticket while boarding. Unfortunately, Velu has no money to buy a ticket. (It is later revealed that his father was quite abusive and was in the habit of taking away all his money. So it is possible that the father was the reason why he couldn't afford the ticket. Without money and a ticket, Velu got on the train. Luckily, the ticket collector (also known as Travelling Ticket examiner) did not come to the unreserved compartment for checking tickets. Once the train started from Kanur, Velu took a deep breath, and he thought of sleeping for a while. He tried to take a nap on the floor near the door. But he could not sleep because a group of men were sitting next to him and playing cards. The men were shouting the whole night. It made Velu stay awake throughout the entire night.
 
Velu heard a rough voice near him. He opened his eyes to see who was calling him. There were a lot of people standing near him, but no one was looking at him. Velu was confused and wondering who was calling. The voice questioned him, “Aiy! What, new to town, eh?” Again he heard the same sound. He turned around and looked all over the place. He saw a girl standing behind him.

The girl was wearing a long banian which came down to her knees. Her hair looked very  rough, street and brownish. It probably signifies the appearance of street children. The girl was carrying a big bag on her shoulder. She took the plastic cups from the platform and stuffed them inside her sack. The girl was eleven-year-old like that of Velu.
 
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A girl wearing a long banian
 
After seeing the girl and her bag, Velu had a lot of questions running in his mind. He wondered why she was calling him without knowing him, why she was wearing a man's banian and why she was stuffing the plastic cups in her bag.
 
Velu was staring at the girl for a long time. He was looking at her appearance and her way of dressing. After seeing Velu's expression, the little girl told  don't stare at her stupidly. She asked him, "What's your name?". In a low voice, Velu murmured his name. The girl came to know that his name was Velu. After seeing Velu's small bundle, she understood Velu had run away from his home.

The little girl enquired Velu, "Run away from home?" Velu did not answer her question because he didn't want to share things about him with a stranger and how he reached Chennai city.

While the girl was speaking to Velu, he reminded his past. Velu had run away from his house because of his father's torture. Velu's father was a drunkard, and he used to beat him and his sisters and take away all the money from them.
 
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Velu's father beating Velu(Velu remembering his past)

The girl explained to him about Chennai city. She told him that this city was full of children like Velu. On seeing Velu, the little girl asked him what he would to do next for his livelihood. She sat next to Velu. Velu felt shy and slightly moved from her side.
 
Velu was hungry because he hadn't eaten anything except a few peanuts and jaggery for a long time. Velu was exhausted and had stomach pain as a result of his hunger. When Jaya saw Velu's face, she realised he was hungry. Jaya asked him to accompany her as no one will come to feed him if he sits here for a long period of time.
 
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Velu felt very hunger
 
Velu did not respond to the girl. So the girl took her bag, and she started walking. Velu remained seated on the bench, and he was thinking about where to go, whether he wants to follow her or where she will take him. Velu saw the girl was quickly disappearing into the large crowd. Velu had to make a decision soon because he only knew the girl in the vast city, and no one else could provide company for him. Velu needed to make a move before she vanished into the crowd. Finally, Velu decided to go along with the girl.

Immediately, Velu jumped up from the bench and ran behind her. But the girl was not at all turning back to see whether Velu was following him or not.
 
Velu ran behind the girl. She was walking very fast, and later on, Velu reached the girl before she left the station. After coming out of the station Velu and the girl came near the road. The vehicles on the road were passing at an incredible speed. They were moving without stopping for anyone. From the cars and other public transportation, heavy smoke and dust released. It made him feel very giddy, and his head started to spin. Velu and the girl found it very difficult to cross the road because they need to wait a long time to see a gap between the vehicles. Once they found a gap between the cars, they can run through it to cross the road.
 
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Smoke and dust released from vehicles
 
The girl found a small gap, and she called Velu to cross the road. Velu hesitated to cross the road, but she dragged him to the other side. The girl started scolding Velu for standing in the middle of the road. If he stood on the same road for a long time, the vehicles would turn him into "chutney"  ("Chutney" is a kind of South Indian dish). In this paragraph, the girl compares accidents to the chutney. For instance, if a person crosses a busy road without following the traffic rules, accidents may happen, and he/ she crossing the road will become chutney.

Velu's heart was beating very fast on seeing a lot of vehicles moving fast. Velu looked back at the Central railway station and the road traffic, and he was amazed how people would cross the busy road. Velu and the girl were walking near the pavements. On the top, there was a signboard, and he looked up at the signboards. There were a few pictures about car tyres, pens, banians and a woman holding a box. Over the photographs, a few writings were there. But it was written in English, and Velu did not know to read English and he did not understand what was written on the board.

Later on, the girl and Velu turned onto a wide bridge, and they started to walk on the bridge. Later on, he looked over a railing. Under the wide bridge, there was a big road through which one can reach the city. While standing on the bridge, Velu could see the streets, significant buildings and towers in the distance.

On seeing a huge building, the girl advised Velu to be very careful. If the policeman saw them  moving here and there, he would put them behind bars. Velu looked at the signboards, and it was written in Tamil. Velu read the board as Central jail. Velu was puzzled because he did not understand what she was conveying to him.
 
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Central Jail
 
Velu expressed to her that he had not done anything wrong. The girl said to him, “You don’t have to do anything. Just don’t get caught, that’s all.” It means that if the policemen saw Velu roaming here and there, they would catch him and put him behind bars without any reason.

Velu was again confused, and he was not clear about what she said. Meanwhile, the girl did not bother about anything, and she started moving fast.  The girl was heading down the bridge with a huge sack on her shoulder. Velu asked her what she was carrying in that bag. He saw that the girl was picking some plastic cups and putting them inside it from the railway station.
 
Velu asked the girl, “What are you carrying in that bag?” She told him she was carrying things, bottles, and paper. Velu was amazed because he did not know what she was doing with that. He felt shy to ask her more questions. Both of them were walking for a long time. Even though it was morning, the sun blasted its strong rays. Due to the sun's hot rays, one faces very difficulty in walking on the road with bare feet. But here in Chennai city, even the morning rays are equal to the afternoon sun rays.

Velu was walking with his barefoot. The sunrays hit the tar road, and it hurt him while walking. His feet got burned because of the morning sun. Velu thought that it was not as easy as walking on a mud road. Velu used to walk on the mud road with his bare feet in his village, and it would not hurt him. After walking for a long time, he felt exhausted, and he was soaked with sweat.
 
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Velu soaked with sweat
 
Velu tried to walk in the shady area; it would give him some relief. But the girl was walking even faster on the hot road. Velu tried to walk along with the girl. Velu thought about how long he had to walk on the street to get the food.
 
After walking for an hour, Velu and the girl stopped in front of a big building. The building was a marriage hall. Velu tried to read the auditorium's name, and it was written as Sri Rajarajeshwari Prasanna Kalyana Mandapam. A board was hanging outside the mandapam, and it was decorated with beautiful flowers.  On the top of the board, the names of the groom and bride were written. The groom was J. V. Vinayagan, and the bride was Rani.

A large number of cars were parked outside the mandapam. Velu and the girl stared at the cars that were parked outside the marriage hall. One of the cars was beautifully decorated with a garland of flowers and roses. The bride and groom use the decorated car after the wedding. On seeing many flowers, the girl took a rose from the car and stuck it in her hair.

The girl asked Velu, let's go inside. Velu was staring at her and asked whether they were going to had food from the Kalyana mandapam. Both of them went back side of the mandapam. The girl took him behind the hall. There he saw a big dust bin. The bins were overflowing with rubbish. Flies and insects were circling over the waste. Two goats were standing over the pile of trash and were fighting for the banana leaves. According to Indian custom, people serve food on banana leaves during festive occasions, ceremonies and wedding parties.
 
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Flies and insects were circling over the wastes

Velu saw a cloud of flies buzzing around their legs. It made him feel unhygienic. A foul smell came out from the garbage. The girl took a squashy banana from the dust bin and gave it to Velu.
 
Velu was shocked after seeing the girl taking the banana from a pile of waste. Velu asked her whether they were going to eat the leftover from the dustbin. The girl said, "Chey! What do you think I am? A dog?" She said, "Here, some more, catch!” It shows how the street children are fighting for food like a dog. Later on, she threw a Vada at him.

The girl explained that Velu had to eat this leftover because he was new to the town and did not have enough money to buy a portion of good food. Even she, too, did not like to have such food. Due to their poverty and lack of money, they had to eat something to reduce their appetite. The poverty made them eat food from the trash, showing how food is important for them. In this current world, people are wasting a lot of food daily. If we think about the lives of Velu and the little girl, we will not waste food. Apart from leaving the leftover in the garbage, we can give it to someone who needs food.

The girl said that Velu would get better food when he starts earning by himself. Until then, he will have to eat such food. Velu's stomach started making sound, and he felt hungry. To overcome his hunger, Velu took the banana and Vada and gulped down. After eating banana and Vada, his stomach felt better. His appetite makes him eat more than usual, but he found only one banana behind the garbage and ate it. Later on, the girl took a banana, and she ate it.
 
After eating banana and Vada from the garbage, Velu felt hungry again. The girl told him if he felt hungry again, he can wait near the bin. The people would finish their lunch and they will throw the remaining in the bin. The girl had to move out to do her work again. So, she collected a couple of bottles from the pile of trash and put them into her sack and left the place.
 
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Plastics and glass in a pile of trash
 
Velu got scared, as he knew that he had no place to go if the girl left him. He did not know anyone in the city. So, Velu thought of sticking with her rather than roaming alone in this busy city. So he ran after her.

Velu used to call the girl "Aiy!" because he never asked her name before. Velu asked the girl, "Aiy, what is your name?" Suddenly, the girl stopped and looked back at Velu. Finally, she introduced herself as Jaya and he had been following her for a long time without knowing her name. Velu adamantly said he was not following her. Immediately Jaya questioned him, "What then? Who got you food?". Velu stood quiet for a couple of moments and asked her to take him along with her. Jaya said to him, "Come if you want" and she said her bag was too heavy to carry, so she wanted to return home to take a new bag.
 
Jaya and Velu took almost half an hour to walk along the roadside. After that, Velu and Jaya came near a bridgeDirty, polluted water was flowing nearby the bridge. On seeing the place, Jaya informed Velu that they are in a place called Triplicane.

Triplicane is one of the most crowded areas in Chennai city. There was a canal running through Triplicane, which is named as Buckingham Canal. Buckingham canal was a long freshwater canal constructed during British rule and was an essential waterway during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The canal connects most of the natural backwaters along the coast to Chennai (Madras) port. During the mid of twentieth century, after the effect of the tsunami, the water got polluted. Later on, no preventive measures were taken by the government to clean the canal. Currently, Buckingham Canal is the most polluted water system, in India and it gets polluted due to the mixing of contaminated water, industrial waste and sewage water into the canal.
 
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Wastewater from industries
 
Velu was staring at the canal after seeing the polluted water flowing through the canal. Nearby the canal, Velu saw a few huts. He had never seen such huts in his lifetime. The sheds were made of metal sheets, tyres, bricks, wood and plastic. The houses nearby the canal seemed to be very light, and they looked as if they would fall at any time.
 
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A hut made of metal sheets

The houses looked very strange, and after seeing it, Velu asked Jaya whether she was living here. The houses in Velu's village were made up of mud and palm leaves. His village houses looked very beautiful and built in a good way using stones, bricks, wood, and palm leaves, explained Velu. It would not fall easily.
 
There were many huts nearby the canal. Jaya went inside one of the huts, and she took an empty bag.  Jaya asked Velu to come along with her.

Jaya threw him a pair of old shoes without laces. Later on, she pushed an old sack and a stick into his hands. Velu was very confused, and he did not know what work he wanted to do by wearing old shoes. The only job he had done on his land owner's farm was grazing cows and removing unwanted plants from the ground.
 
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Pair of gloves
 
Velu had experience in looking after the farmlands and grazing cows. So he asked Jaya, “Are there any farms in the city?” On hearing that, Jaya started laughing, and she began to dig the sand with her stick. Later on, Jaya answered him there were no farms and fields in this city. They were ragpickers, not farmers.

After hearing the term "ragpicker", Velu was amazed because he had never heard this name before in his life. Velu asked her about ragpicker. Jaya's job was rag picking. People who collect garbage from dust bins and dumps are called ragpickers. Jaya opened her bag and showed it to Velu. Inside the bag, there were paper, plastic, and glass, and Jaya collected them from the dustbins.
 
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Ragpickers

Velu had many questions in his mind. He asked Jaya why she was collecting rubbish. Jaya called him stupid and said she was not collecting waste; she collected only the plastic bags and glass items left out in the dust bins. Jaya would sell these items to Jam Bazaar Jaggu.
 
Velu was confused, as he had never heard of people collecting garbage and selling it to the shop. Velu was puzzled, and he was thinking about what they will do with the leftovers taken from the rubbish. When Velu was in his village, his people would throw  garbage into the dust bin, and they would never sell it to anyone. Velu was interested in knowing about Jam Bazaar Jaggu and why he was paying money for the garbage.

Velu thought that usually, people would buy expensive things for their happiness, but why a person like Jaggu is getting garbage and paying money for it. To clear his doubts, Jaya explained to him that Jaggu was not buying it for entertainment. Jaggu would sell the plastics, glass and other things to a factory. From the factory, the items would go for recycling. Recycling is a process of using things again and again or making new things out of used ones. It is always better to recycle than to throw things away. The things we throw away do not disappear, and they pollute the air.

Jaya took the stick and poked him, and she told Velu she did not have time to waste. Other ragpickers would come to collect the garbage, and they had to reach the spot earlier. Jaya told him not to waste time by simply standing at a place; he needs to work hard to earn money and buy good food. Jaya asked him, "Who filled your stomach today?” Velu scratched his head and took a deep breath. Velu thought of continuing as a ragpicker until he finds a new job for him.