“A child with a pot belly, bulging eyes and skinny arms. A mother with one stone eye and a seemingly dead child in her arms. An old man with no limbs. These are the humans of traffic signals in India, famously known as beggars.”
Last Sunday, I woke up with an ear to ear smile. I knew that the Sun was high up especially for me that morning. Joey Tribbiani was singing “morning is here” in my head, and I was loving every bit of it! Why you ask? Because that day I was going to see my boyfriend, my best friend, after one long trying year! His flight was landing in about two hours and I just could not curb the butterflies from fluttering with sheer anxiety in my gut.
I had to start dressing up in one hour and leave for the airport but meanwhile, I thought it would be best if I tried to calm my crazy feelings down with a cup of coffee.
And just as I made my mind to leave for the kitchen, the doorbell rang. It was Savitri, my maid. Savitri was battling troublesome times. Her daughter had recently run away with a guy who as per what Savitri told me, had gifted her a cellphone. And just like that, her daughter had fallen for him, and defying her parents’ concerns, one night she stealthily walked out of her house with the idea of never coming back. I did not prefer asking about her much because that depressed her, and also me.
But that morning, I don’t know what side of my brain or heart gave in, and I ended up asking, “Any news of Indu yet?”
She coughed a little, choked a little, and then burst into tears.
Savitri: “Didi wo ladka jo Indu ko phone diye tha, wo.. wo..” (Didi, that boy who gave Indu the phone, that, that boy..)
And she cried some more..
Her breakdown got me imagining the worst in my head. Holding my thoughts from going haywire, I gave her a glass of water, and when she managed to catch some breath, I asked her again; “Tell me properly, what is it?”
I lack the guts to quote her reply in here but all I can say is that what she said involved a lot of sobbing and many downright disturbing things. And the gist was this,
The guy who had lured Indu in his love with a Samsung Galaxy Grand was actually some kind of manager who ran business of beggary. Apparently, he was a pro at taking undue advantage of innocent faces, faces that he thought came with minds that could easily be played with. The worst part? Some people voluntarily gave in into begging for him. Those “some” people are poor in real terms, and devoid of basic living conditions and job opportunities. And some others do so because they think they are too crippled in head to try something else when there is beggary that can garner them easy and quick bucks.
But Indu, she was ambitious. Her parents worked really hard to finance her education. Her father wanted her to become a business woman and run a small shop, for which he had been saving a certain amount of his small salary, every month. But, this young girl, with messed up hormonal balance, was not satisfied with the kind of life she had been leading, and so when a strange man with a hi-tech gift in his hand and a couple of cheesy lines and promises came before her, she was swept off her feet in a jiffy.
I had heard people saying that beggary is now a flourishing business in India. And to some levels, I believed it too. But, this was the first time my cloud of doubts cleared up before me.
My heart sank and the excitement level dropped down to 0.
“Why! Why did I ask her about it!”, I kept cursing myself.
An hour later,
Having been caught in the sadness of the morning, I had missed booking the cab. So I hurried down the stairs, crossed the road, and hired a rick.
In the auto, I plugged in the music and Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again”, did quite well in keeping me distracted for good. And my excitement of seeing him was revived!
But who was I kidding? My happy moments were not willing to last for longer than a few minutes that day. And just when I thought I was fine, my auto stopped at a traffic signal, and Indu’s tragic story came haunting back.
The worst happened when a small boy, who looked about 9 and lean, came to me and started touching my feet! I did not want to pay him, as at that time all I could think of was the many instances I had fallen into the trap of those innocent eyes. The sad truth however is that, that the innocence in those eyes has been purchased by the horrible people who run businesses of this nature.
All this kid does now is perhaps beg as he is nothing more than a puppet in the hands of his manager. Manager who thinks that making money by fooling people is the best and smartest way to own luxurious flats in a posh Mumbai locality. He thinks people can be easily fooled by a mere sight of a poor kid begging or of a severely physically disoriented person. And it hurts for me to say this, but this sick man is proving himself to be right on his this kind of ideology.
I hated every bit of it. I tried shooing him away. I even threatened him saying that I would take him to police if he touched my feet one more time. But nothing made him stop, and the signal still had a good 30 seconds to change to green. For a second there I thought may be he is drugged. But not giving that thought too much air, I took out the sandwich that I had brought with the intention of eating on the way, from my bag. My hunger had subsided a long time ago and this kid was still there. And thinking this to be a better option over money, I gave him the sandwich and asked him to scoot off.
At this, his expressions changed. And no, he was not happy or relieved on being given food, he was actually dejected.
“Kya madam ye! Isse kya hoga mera” (what is this madam, what will I do with this), he expressed his annoyance over me because I gave him food. Yes, food. And it was my this act that made him leave. All puzzled at what just happened, I peeped out from the auto anticipating to see him go and beg before someone else.
But what he did next, betrayed my whole belief system.
He had thrown the sandwich right there on the main road. Just threw it like it was some ATM receipt that people don’t bother throwing anywhere and everywhere. An even more horrifying scene emerged when he took out of his tattered pocket, something that resembled a diluter bottle.And as he hopped back to the footpath, he sniffed the contents from that bottle in one long deep inhale.
I did not know what to feel more bad about. About the fact that he had no value for food, about the fact that he threw food in the middle of the road, or about the fact that his innocence had been tampered a great deal.
Just as I turned back in, the signal had changed to yellow. The driver saw it all and gave me a smirk. He must have been thinking of me to be an educated fool.
But what he said helped me take these troubling images off of my mind. Sensing my annoyance at the whole thing, he said, “Madam, aapne apni taraf se toh acha soch k he kiya, bhool jao.” (Madam, you did this with a good intention. So forget it now. Your part is done.)
At this, all I could do was force out a smile, and I directed him,
“Ride as fast as you can to the airport, the good part of my day is finally about to start”
“Haan madam but traffic milega abi MG road pe..” (yes madam, but the heavy traffic at MG Road still awaits us) and he continued blabbering for a while..
I noticed many messed up people in ripped clothes and sporting expressionless eyes, on MG road signal that day. I saw many well-dressed ones also but again, whatever appears on face value in this part of the world, I now believe, can never be trusted.