Saturday, 8 August 2009

Just another day in India

I went to Hearsch Bakery near Holy Family Hospital after ages to pick up a burger for breakfast this morning.

I saw an elderly gentleman, possibly in his mid sixties, standing opposite Holy Family in the alley. He was simply dressed like middle class folks of his genre, white bush shirt tucked out, grey trouser. He had a red and white jhola, the sling bag favoured by folks of his generation. He had round glasses, was slim and probably looked the way my grandfather would have looked twenty years back. A typical, middle class gent in the early years of his retirement.

And he had his hand stretched out asking for alms.

I remembered seeing him when I had come to Hearsch's months back. I was very puzzled even then.

I wondered what his story would be. Was he abandoned by his children? Was he laid off? He did look in good health. Didn't look particularly poor. Yet, there was a strange mix of serene desperation on his face. What would have driven him to beg? Should I offer him some money? That's what he was standing there for. But he looked so professorial and dignified. How could one go and offer cash to someone like that? Should I get something for him from Hearsch. Was he a vegetarian? Should I offer to take him to Hearsch and buy him something.

And then I found myself in my car, driving off with my burger.

Poverty and deprivation is so in our face in Mumbai. Even if you leave the slums and people defecating on the roads because they have no option, you have an incessant stream of beggars of all sizes and genders knocking on your car windows. Amputed people lying outside train stations, trying to get your attention by flicking some body part.

Most of us have developed an immune system. We have learnt to move on to the next traffic signal without thinking twice. Common arguments would be that you are doing the kid a disservice by giving him money. And we know that most are run by Ganglords and begging syndicates. We cringed when Danny Boyle showed this to the world. But we knew it was true.

I know folks who have their soft spots. The other day I was with a colleague in a car who took out some coins for a listless boy who knocked at our window. He is a father.

Then there is someone who opens her heart and purse to elderly women. She misses her grandmother.

Rolling the car window up is an option too.


P gupta said...

GuptaApart from the immunity .. there are voices in the head which says that for some of them it is a form of business ..
I had a 100 rs note snatched away from me at a traffic signal by an eunuch. It was my very first day at Mumbai. Then there were scary instances where I gave money to one beggar boy .. only to be mobbed by gazillion others asking me... Read More to give them money too .. Once I was scared that if I did not oblige they might turn violent .. Sympathy just flew out of the window and scare took over ..

Kartik Menon said...

liked your blog...especially liked the wooster reference...I thought people stopped reading wodehouse in favor of idiots like chetan bhagat :P


The knife said...

Hi Poli...most are scamsters...but there are a lot of genuine folks out there and they lose out because of them
Hey Kartik, thanks a lot for dropping by. I was really encouraged to read this first thing in the morning. I had Wodehouse coming out of me ears through high school and college

Amol Naik said...

I liked your article. It is harsh reality that we have become immune to poverty. Is it because there are innumerable poor people to reach out to, help, and elevate them. Or is it, that poor people are not doing much to elevate themselves, so much like middle class people to climb up the ladder..just a judgment.. ;)

Mahmood said...

Yes. Our hearts have hardened but for a flicker of softness sometimes. Why so many people are there on the streets begging? Honestly what do we do for them? Your blog is very nice. God is Great. Best wishes.

The knife said...

Amol, Mahmood thanks so much for dropping in. You have made a very important point. We need a very fundamental change in our society. The question is how?

Corinne Rodrigues said...

Hi Knife - I've seen him too several times. He looked so well dressed that at first I thought he was doing penance of some sort - it seemed embarrassing to give him money. Then once my husband and I stopped and asked him what he was doing. He told us that his wife was bedridden and he needed the money. So every time we passed by we gave him money.
When I first saw him he would just stand with his hand stretched out..then he began to get more active moving about and begging...a couple of months later we saw him at Santacruz and somehow I didn't feel like giving him money any more...I was afraid that he is/was being used by someone else (remember Slumdog Millionaire?). I really don't know what to do either and whether to believe him.....but on second thoughts our snacks, in your case at Hearcsh and in ours at American Express cost us a lot more than the Rs.50/- we gave him.....
Hard to tell what's the right thing to do.

PS: Sorry about this long comment :) - hope to visit here more often - and promise not to go on ;)

The knife said...

Dear Corinne,

Thanks for dropping and thanks for the long comment :) The idea of the blog was to discuss things with folks so this is good :)

Well, at least you spoke to him. Which was a big step.

The problem is that we have so many people walking around with 'certificates' saying that family members are unwell... and this is all over India.

Another common thing at Bandra is to have a group of people approach you, speak in Marathi pretending to be vllagers, saying that they don't have money to go back home. There've been times when I've got this story twice and thrice in the same evening.

And had come across this in Kolkata too.


PS I am a big fan of Amex and am a sucker for the chicken burger at Hearsch which is one of the few things still less than fifty Rupees

Miri said...

The Marathi villagers have reached Delhi too...sigh.

A month after we moved to Delhi our house was invaded by a gang of eunuchs who demanded money because we moved into a house! They stripped and created a ruckus and made me so mad with anger that I almost had a heart attack. Because my Dad was staying with us we had to shell out money - my BP still rises when I think of that extortion - they drove off in a Skoda!!!

These are the episodes which harden our heart and make us numb...:(

The other day, as I came out of my dance class, I saw an old man who had fallen at the side of the road and was struggling to get up. I tried to help him up and realised he was absolutely drunk....he couldnt even speak and just kept gesturing to me. I looked around for help, but no one would stop and at 45kgs I couldnt manage to help him up on my own...He was a decent old man, just like the person you described but just because he was drunk people turned away. I finally could only manage to prop him up near the pavement and then left because I had to walk home and it was already late. I tried calling a rickshaw but he wouldnt get in...I felt so guilty that evening for what I should/could have done...


Mumbai Diva said...

strangely i haven't been dropping by this blog even tho am addicted to finely chopped. after reading this post am definitely a regular here too.

The knife said...

Hey glad to see you here M D. Don't worry, finely chopped is my first born and I am partial to it too