After my cliffhanger and a filmy goodbye to that girl, I had gone out to roam the city. I had a great time, a ball of a time in fact, partying, playing, eating, spending a lot. After a day of fun, I went with my friends to a pav bhaji stall. There, while we were ordering food, a small girl comes to my side and asks if I could buy her something to eat. I was like, alright, and I told the vender to make one more plate. The girl then asks me to get it packed instead. I say okay and told the vendor to pack it. She then asks me to tell the vender to add more bread to the parcel. For which, I asked her, why? (Obviously she was more hungry!! Duh!!)
She told me that she has to take the food to 2 more people. I asked who was it for, besides her, she told me, her mother and brother. She points them to me. I tell her to go get them. Meanwhile, I told the vender to make 2 parcels instead of one. The mother and the son came near us, and now all three of them are staring at me.
While the vendor was preparing the food, I stared at the boy, kept looking at him. I waited to make eye contact. But he was evasive, involuntarily though. Suddenly our eyes caught each other after a tiresome 30 or 40 seconds which seemed like a lifetime. I beckoned the boy near me. He was scared, of course, I think it was because of me being a stranger. He turned to his mother. She gave a nod and he walked towards me. I do not think he was aware of the social distancing norms but he stood far away from me, almost 4 or 5 feet away. By the way, non of them were wearing masks.
The mother was pushing her 40s I imagined, but she looked a little older. She was tiny, I could not help but think how tiny they were, like lilliputians in front of 6 ft tall people all around. It was like the society had dominated them all their life. They all had a handbag each, under their arms, hanging from their shoulder. I thought they were carrying supplies for the day. While the kid approached me, his elder sister came close and stood behind him. They seemed protective of each other. I asked the boy, what his name was, to hear him say “Vaidyanathan”. “How old are you?” He falls silent and turns to his mother, “how old am I mom?” (in their regional language, I was unaware of this one) She told something to him and he then showed me 5 fingers in one hand and 3 in other. Then he remembered and said, “Eight”. I asked, do you go to school? He ran back to his mother.
The vendor first served me and my friends, the pav bhaji. I didn’t eat yet, I passed on the plates to my friends and asked him to pack the food first. Meanwhile I paid him for all the 5 plates of food. I got the package from him and moved to them. I handed over the package to Vaidyanathan and turned to his elder sister who had first asked me for the food. I asked her, what her name was. “Sheetal”. “Do you go to school Sheetal?” She told me she did and was in 7th grade. Then suddenly Vaidyanathan got the courage to say 4th grade. “I am in fourth grade”. I said that was wonderful. I would have been crushed had they said they were not privileged for schooling and education.
I turned towards the mother and asked her, if this is how she fed them everyday? At the mercy of strangers? She did not understand my Hindi and the daughter kindly translated it to their regional language. For which she replied something which I later learned that due to today’s rain, she had not got any work. She is a daily wage worker at construction sites and today was just a bad day. I was dumbstruck. I did not know what to tell her. I asked her if this was very common and she just said, she couldn’t help it. I asked her, does she save any money for which she said, “its a surprise if she meets her daily needs”. I then realised saving money is also a luxury.
I opened my wallet to see how much cash I had, I had only 200 rupees, I took it out and gave her the money telling her, “save it for emergencies, its not for her, but for the children, when there is no other go and nobody to help her out, use this money then.” They left, but a mark stayed in me.
I was suddenly overwhelmed with this guilt of my day and their night. Here I was lavishly, splurging money and carelessly enjoying it while she struggles to feed her children. What struck me harder than ever, is that, it is not new to me. I was aware of this state of life. I have helped many in my previous job as well. But this current job of mine has secluded me from the society. I got out for a day and it feels like a truck hit me. Those of us, who are reading this right now, are very privileged in life. We are so blessed that we do not even have the thought of this suffering that exists. My ignorance offended me.
I could not stop thinking about them. I could not eat, but my friends forced me to eat the food. I have not been able to take them out of my mind since. How ignorant have I become? The guilt eats me alive. Now suddenly I wonder, if the bags they were carrying was all their belonging? A huge pain crushes my chest. I am choking on my own feelings. I somehow ambled to the railway station. I sat with support of the pillar and kept pondering. Talking about this to people who cared to ask me what the issue was.
My cousin said, “Life isn’t fair. Nothing is. Only when we look at it like it should be fair, do we feel hopeless…” I decided in that moment to spread hope. I do not know how. I am lost, I hope I find the courage and the path to bring hope in everyone’s life. Even if it is one family at a time.