Thursday, November 24, 2011

Roadizens of the city

One sweet November night, after having a sumptuous meal, I was enjoying a long drive with my friends. Winter had already commenced and was ready to take toll on the dark night. It seemed we were going to experience the first foggy night of the winter. The transparency of the glass was being challenged intermittently and the plastic wipers had to be supplemented with human hands. Suddenly a ghastly apparition made our car screech. The first expression that we could manage was, “What the hell!!”. What we could see at that time was an imprint of a small hand on the front glass of the car. We lowered our window glass and peeped out. There was a young lady in her late twenties with a one year old kid. She was full of tears, dressed up like a mannequin put up in support of recycling of waste materials. She begged, “We are hungry. It’s too cold. Please help me. Give me some money so that I can buy some milk for my child.” All of us were too fumed to entertain her plea. We shook our head and gestured her to move away. We drove on. I looked back- the woman was now weeping incessantly and pleading to the family in the car behind us. This was a brief encounter with a roadizen- the real roadies- not those who appear on MTV, clad in uptown costumes and make up, sophisticated and urbane(powered by the urban dictionary). These are the people who although as stated in constitution are citizens of India with all the fundamental rights but lack even the amenities of the really poor BPL population.

These road dwellers were better known as beggars to me for almost two decades of my life. “Beggar problem in India” was one of the favorite topics of our Language teacher; I failed to understand why she considered beggars as a problem. I could see beggars all over the streets with a thick density near the temples where I used to distribute sweets on my birthday. On one of my birthdays (I was seven or eight years old), while I was distributing sweets to beggars encircling the temple boundaries, I recognized an old man who fooled me to give him two laddoos instead of one. I was so angry that I decided that I would not distribute any more sweets to these dishonest people. I realized it later only that that one laddoo may be the only food he could get to eat on that day. 

As always, observing people being my favorite time pass while long, boring and dusty road journeys, I have tried to classify these frail and funnily/scantily clad people in different classes. This may not be an enjoyable read but I would like to share all my bull-shit thoughts and would also like those who read this post to add some new records to my existing database. 

Class I (The Non Choosers)

These are the people who do not have anything to choose. They have the most hectic and well defined job in this world with only one KRA- not to beg but to survive. These poor people seem to be burden of earth-
  • old people with no teeth compelled to eat dry solid breads and whatever waste and rotten they could find, abandoned by their own people, rejected by the government funded old age home, waiting desperately to be noticed by God or some NGO or some newspaper;

  • crippled beggars who are actually the illiterate counterparts of the reserved category of PHD candidates, slithering and limping in the dust, moving on a skate board like object, some of those do not carry even a hand to beg;

  • people called mad or mentally challenged, totally unaware of their sufferings, enjoying the bliss of life- they sleep on footpath, wear any type of fabric they can get, gesture to anyone, bathe and excrete in open, eat anything they perceive as human food despite of the source. I remember a photograph that I saw in a newspaper: an old and mad person fighting with dogs to get a piece of chapatti from the dust bin. The first question that came to my mind was-“Did the photographer offer the poor person some food?”

  • women with small children are the most sorry pictures that this beggar system of India portrays. Poor mothers unable to arrange food for them cannot even feed their babies. The only warmth that these unwelcomed babies can get is the warmth of the Sun over them.

  • Small children who keep running across the busiest streets of the country which laymen like us would take 10-15 minutes to cross. Childhood epitomizes innocence but these kids never look innocent to the commuters. They have a mischievous look as if they are ready to snatch all your belongings. Every time the auto stops at red signals, I am alert. Small girls and boys will surround you and plead in a sweet voice, will compete to seek your attention or simply ask for your food/drink. However, once they find you in no mood to entertain them then their sweet “didi “(that’s me) appear to become a fat and ugly “aunty”- Sweet revenge of the sweet nothings.

Class II (The Artistes)

This class includes singers, dancers, painters and even the eunuchs.

You can often find children of age 5-6 years roaming in the PVR complexes trying to sell you their drawings (some geometrical scribbles with crayon colors in between) for a meager amount of 5 or 10 rupees so that they can have some food.

Few talented small dancers can be found at the traffic signals, flexing and twisting their bodies amazingly on drum beats. You would try not looking at them but they can make you curious but before they can bother you for few pennies, you ask your autowala bhaiya to start.

Now, there are bus singers too who have small dabba used as their percussion instruments. As soon as they step on a bus-they break into songs despite of the unsupportive crowd. Sometimes they find companions too who not only enjoy their songs but also request for their favorite songs to be sung. Fee?? Just a free bus ride. Should they expect anymore?

Class III (The Self Employed)

Apt examples of disguised unemployment, these are people who do not beg for alms but request you politely to buy their stuff so that they can eat that night. They are self employed in their own rights but to you are nothing more than beggars- paper napkins, dusters, window shields, curtains, coconut, Chinese toys, magazines, newspapers- they sell all those things for which you would like to waste your hours checking for, picking up and waiting in queue in air-conditioned showrooms of organized retailers.

Small boys selling pirated copies of English bestselling novels at the traffic signals were my favorites. Reason? They quoted their price based on volume and not content. Certainly, their cost involved only that of printing. They must be the best marketers who are able to sell their things in a span of few seconds; sometimes they even cling to the vehicles while their customer manages to pull out one or two notes of hundred bucks. These guys remained my sweet hearts until one day I found ten pages missing from one of the pirated copy I bought.

Class IV (The Sufferers)

These are the people who do not beg but earn money by selling pain. People with hunters earn attention and money by beating themselves hard and harder. You may not find any point in offering them any money but they have identified that this is the only skill they possess- to endure everything.

Then there are others who want you to buy their emotional and mental pain- mothers, wives, and daughters weeping at traffic signals for money to buy medicines for their children, husbands or parents. They often carry prescriptions stamped by government hospitals. Newspapers often carry news of forgery of such prescriptions. 

Class V (The God Men)

Call them God men or the true Aryans, they are the staunch believers of God. Often feared by simple and generous souls like my mother, these people are often accompanied by some auspicious animals like Nandi bull or Nag Devta or appear on particular days of a week with an idol of the God to be worshipped on that day. For example, every Saturday we can find people with a small idol bathed in mustard oil and shower blessings on every passer by and then, they ask for some daan  because according to the religion, you ought to give something in return to show respect and gratitude to people who take you nearer to God.

Class VI (The Hard Earners)

These are the migrants who in search of better opportunities leave their families, homes and villages. They barter a better future with their present sufferings. These people are real heroes who toil for the whole day, spend a small percentage of whatever little they earn on a lunch and a dinner which mainly comprises of the cheapest food items being sold by the street side vendors (Street Food being very popular in Delhi is not that cheap though) like puchkas, boiled eggs, kulcha cholle etc. After having a meal, they fill their half filled stomach with plenty of water, find a suitable dry space on the footpath, most unlikely to be disturbed and go to sleep.

I am a part of a country which is a home to people from all economic strata. While the enormous iron gates and palatial bungalows in my posh surroundings inspire me to dream high, these roadizens motivate me to move on in my life and also make me a better person. How?

-I try not to waste food.
-I do not crib when power goes off or my geyser doesn’t work.
-I manage to sleep on winter nights thinking of people who sleep on footpath.
-I do not chase after the materialistic gains.
-They strengthen my belief that I am not the unluckiest person in the world. I have food, shelter and clothes atleast. I have family and friends who love me very much.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The nitty gritty of life

Last week, my maternal uncle passed away. He was one of my mother’s four brothers. My maternal grand father died just six months before my mother’s marriage. My uncle had not only been a support to my mother but had also been a good friend to my father. A fighter at heart, having fought innumerous miseries in life, he finally succumbed to heart attack. His most commendable virtue was his open mind towards the changing society. In today’s world of modern globalized consumer India contrasted by issues like khap panchayat, honour killings and dowry system; he ensured all his children (even his sisters) get well educated and capable of being financially independent (all his daughters are post graduate). Of course, it is no big deal but living in a small village which does not have educational facilities beyond high school, it takes extra pain. He never encouraged dowry – neither as a father of son nor as a father of daughter. Although I was never that close to him, he loved me dearly. I still remember his efforts to talk in broken Hindi with his niece which made everyone laugh.
Death is the most inevitable truth of life but also, it is the simplest of all actions taking place on earth. Life brings along complexity, death ends it all. When I was a kid, I was intrigued by questions of life and death. At an age of five, I was once too curious to sleep pondering over where do the dead people go. I was given a plethora of religious and mythological books that my parents thought would help me relax. Having read all of Brian Weiss’s books, I am less anxious about dying now. However, a death in vicinity unravels in me a chain of emotions giving way to one another and trying to spill over everywhere –even on paper. This time, it is not my emotions that seek  words but a lovely book that found me in the best of my sensibility.

Saans bhi leti hain jo kathputliyaan, unki bhi thaame hain koi doriyaan……”
 The best lines I could find to describe life. Even if I am alive and do everything to live happily, I am not the sole decision maker. A forwarded message said “Life is a chess. You and your destiny are the two players”. This book conveys to me the same message. This book “Raavi paar and other stories” consists of short stories, written in simple words. Each story portrays a different background with different set of characters but is consistent in displaying various facets of human behavior and emotions. The title story- “Raavi paar” is actually a tragic story which could have been named as tragedy of errors. “Daliyais a story of an under privileged poor rural woman whose only sin was that she was beautiful and fair- a treasure that should have been guarded but was left on the mercy of his drunker husband who did not even think twice before sending his wife to the service of the king, notorious for his lust for women. “Guddo” is a story of an innocent teenager Guddo who thought she was wiser and more mature than her elder sister but no one believes she’s grown up. She found her true love in the Bollywood actor Dilip Kumar but when she saw him holding hands with Vaijyanti Mala in one of his film’s shoot, she was shattered. The story “Khauf” again proves to be a tragedy of errors. A Muslim man took shelter under a seat of a local train seeing  another man in the bogie. Feeling unsafe in the presence of another man who he doubted to be a Hindu, he rushed and threw the other man out of the train only to realize later that the other person was a muslim too. “Sunset Boulevard” is a story of an old actress who is too reluctant to let go. “Dhuan” portrays the rigidity of social divisions and religions. “Haath peele kar do” shows the change of thought process with change of time and relationships.  “Zindagi aur maut” gives a picture of role played by fate. This book is like a bag of sweet chocolates and sour candies put together making it an experience just like life itself. Stories in the book have simple plot but strong narrative which makes them interesting and engrossing.
Even if one is not an ardent reader of Hindi Literature, vocabulary or language would not be a problem while reading this book. At some places, English words have been used in Roman script. Altogether, a nice book – a good companion when in solitude but can prove to be a depressive foe when lonely.