Okay. There are few opportunities to be lighthearted and silly while reading a book on such a heavy topic, so we'd like to just pause here for a moment to make sure you know who David Beckham is. He's a retired soccer player with lots of tattoos, and a dad who likes to paint pottery with his kids and happens to be married to the artist formerly known as Posh Spice a.k.a. Victoria Beckham a.k.a. She Who Shall Not Smile. And yes—this paragraph is all about the links.
Okay. Now that we know all about the dude on Harish's shirt, let's focus on Harish himself.
Even though Harish is only eight years old, he's old beyond his years. His mother, Pushpa, is sick, so each day when he comes home from school, he checks her for fever. He only wants her to be safe, and he knows that if she can't work, their little family will be out on the streets. When Pushpa has to work at night, Harish leaves the brothel—sometimes to play soccer, sometimes to fly a kite somewhere where he can pretend he lives a normal life.
Harish is one of the closest friend that Lakshmi has at Happiness House, despite their age gap. Once Harish finds Lakshmi pretending that his storybook is hers, he offers it to her. Lakshmi rejects this olive branch, though:
I hate him more than ever now.
For catching me at my make-believe game.
For seeing that I want his life for my own.
And for the pity in his eyes as he offered to share it with me. (105.Caught.4-5)
And Harish is incredibly compassionate and kind to Lakshmi. We understand that his compassion is based in his empathy for the suffering of others—and when Lakshmi sees other boys taunt Harish about his life circumstances and his mother, she understands that Harish is not the ordinary boy she originally thought.
So when Harish offers to teach her some of the things he learns in school, Lakshmi leaps at the chance, not just because it's a way for her to continue her education, but also because it gives her something to look forward to. It's during these lessons that we see one of Harish's most important roles in the novel: his friendship brings joy and hope to Lakshmi when she needs it the most. Plus he's the one who plants the seed in Lakshmi's head that give her the courage to go with the Americans at the end; he doesn't believe Anita's story that Americans shame brothel victims. (117.AStrangeVocabulary)
Lakshmi's friendship means as much to Harish as it does to her. When he gives her a pencil on the festival of brothers and sisters, Lakshmi reciprocates by using her shawl to make him a soccer ball (124.SomethingfortheDavidBeckhamBoy). But Harish's happiness is short-lived. When he comes home one day from school,
He beams at his mother, delighted to see her out of bed, then stops as he takes in her misery.
Neither one says a word. Harish simply pulls his little tin trunk out from under the bed, and the two of them begin to pack. (132.WhatDespairLooksLike.2-3)
And this is Harish's flaw, or at least the flaw of Harish's circumstance: he has zero control over what happens to his life. He is constantly at the mercy of others' kindnesses… and their cruelties. Harish hopes he will survive. He plans to ask the American teacher for help and "break stones at the roadside" for a small amount of money a week (133.AWordTooSmall.8). Like Lakshmi, we wonder how long he will last at the job. And then he gives Lakshmi the American storybook and is gone.