Monday, July 03, 2006

A prick in the conscience

We were driving back home late last night. We saw a little boy about ten years old waiting to cross the road. He was carrying a couple of bundles too heavy for him. He had crossed halfway, and was standing on the non-existent median, trying desperately to cross the other half of the road. His face was one of bewilderment and terror, as vehicles zipped by on either side of him. His pathetic little face was brightly lit by the glare of the headlights of the cars that zoomed past him. S stopped the car, leaned out and motioned for him to cross. It took him a while to understand, but when he did, he scuttled across quickly and disappeared into the darkness. We resumed our journey.

The face of this child stayed with me. It was disturbing. A child of his age should have been in bed by now, after a hot meal. How often do we see kids like these, begging, working, their faces much older than their bodies!

There was a time when I allowed myself to get affected by them. I would think of the child for a long time. I would compare the child to a boy of the same age in my family or neighbourhood, pampered, loved, cared for, and ensconced in comfort. I would try to put the face of this fortunate boy on the body of the less-privileged child. And that picture would move me to tears. But as I grow older, I find myself becoming more and more immune. I resist all unpleasant thoughts, for my own sanity. We all do that, don't we? We tend to build up a kind of armour around us. We prefer living in an ivory tower than accept reality.

There are some people who have been so deeply moved that they have gone ahead and dedicated their life for the betterment of the lives of people like this boy. I always wonder what stuff these remarkable people are made of. How they can put up with dealing with such sorrow, day after day. How they have the conviction that they can make a better life for the less privileged.

I often think, what can I do about it? That is, apart from cash contributions, and maybe occasional voluntary service. Sometimes I have a sense of failing and shame. That I am here in my comfort zone, fully aware, but pretending that I am not.

Anitha has put across her feelings beautifully in this piece "I met a man". She talks to a man with a typical story of helplessness, and she says,

My inadequate words could not and did not give him any solace. As I just sat there, listening to him talk, feeling empty and useless, it struck me: I didn’t really know how to feel. Emotions were a waste: they were all about me, they could not do anything for him. I would never know how it felt to live hand-to-mouth, to wake up and go to bed hungry, or to be oppressed and obligated to people financially forever, with no hope of breaking the bondage. It felt like I was almost living in a parallel universe, sitting across from him.

He wasn’t asking for much – just a life with dignity. And it was a promise I could not make, much less keep.

It’s at times like this that make you really wonder: what is life all about, anyway?


Aparna S Mallya said...

a very nice and touching post. with all the right questions. i wonder what the answers are ...

rajeev said...

The maid that comes to our house is another typical speciman - she has 6 children, lost her husband in a road accident couple of years back,works the whole day in differnet houses to earn about 4k per month. But she is happy - as happy as can be.
She has taught me that It is as much possible to be satisfied with wahtever little you have - as to be dissatisfied with 'much'.
This doesn't answer the Q's you posed, but gives a little to think about :)

Anonymous said...

Choice. - Raaji

Mridula said...

Shruthi, due to some other reason I am also in one of those moods where if I could find God, I would have fired him/her for negligence of duty. Circumstances can make us feel so helpless sometimes.

Inder said...

i think we all know what the solution. the problem is that the solution cannot be implemented so easily.

from individual's side:
1. never marry or have children till you are confident enough that you can support your family.
2. save for your future.

individual's plans can always go wrong. that is where the government should step in.

from government's side:
* implement social security.

india is heavily populated. and population will continue to explode. to implement social security, government needs lot of planning and effort and loads of money. government needs help. this is where the more fortunate individuals should step in. they should be ready to pay contribute towards the social security of the lesser fortunate ones.

Anonymous said...

that's life i guess, just goes on and on :(

Supremus said...

Another side of life I guess. Everything perhaps happens for a reason I am told, but whenver I see such, I wonder what reason is that.

Beautiful post.


Maverick said...

"Listen to ur heart,
u've probably listened this a thousand times, but never to ur heart"

i read this somewhere, n how true it is.when we grow up, we get 'used' to these sites so much tht we take them for granted. There are some people who dont even care about others, some people who do in their own limits but are not brave enough to change their lives for others, n others who go ahead n dedicate. The majority part and all of us i believe belong to the second group. n some people who make transition frm second to third sometimes also have to pay the expense of being called insane. I knw this doesnt answer ur questions, for some questions cannot be answered and they throw only more questions when u try to disentangle them.

Shruthi said...

Aparna: Thank you! I wonder too....

Rajeev: Wow.. one rare specimen, huh? More common are people who have more than is necessary but still think they have nothing.
Yes, something to think about indeed!

Raaji: Precisely. But that brings us back to the questions - what motivates them? What gives them the conviction? Or is that they firmly choose to dedicate their lives for such a cause, and all the motivation and conviction automatically follows suit?

Mridula: You made me smile with that one. You are right, it hurts. It seems so unfair.

Inder: About the individual's plan - this awareness comes with a basic education, which most of our people have no access to. So the Govt's first step should be to ensure that.
About social security, yes, that's a point, but I think we have a long way to go for that, or rather, I would say, there are more pressing problems.
Sometimes, don't you wonder, which problem needs to be addressed first? So many of them are calling for attention.....
The questions are endless.

Ano: Hmm yeah, but why this way? :(

Suyog: Thank you.
Exactly. What reason could that be, which warrants suffering?
Sometimes I feel like rejecting these empty-sounding words of philosophy. If everything happens for a reason, then let that reason happen quickly, so that nobody feels any more pain!

Maverick: Yes, you are right. The majority of us are in that comfort zone mode. And to make the transition, you need tremendous strength and conviction. And just a little bit of what is called insanity too!

Sri Harsha said...

"But as I grow older, I find myself becoming more and more immune. I resist all unpleasant thoughts, for my own sanity. We all do that, don't we? We tend to build up a kind of armour around us. We prefer living in an ivory tower than accept reality."

I think we consciously or unconsciously accept the reality as we grow up shruthi....tht's why we grow immune to these kinda things. Reality is always unpleasant to take in.


Anonymous said...

Well shruthi, I meant "Choice" might serve as an answer to the question "What Life is all about?" not for why some people dedicate their lives. Though I can reply the other questions that followed in the comments section, by doing so the explanation will remain only as an opinion point and not as an end in itself. Because words are limitations. If one really needs to know One has to be "Choicelessly Aware" in the words of JK. I can incoherently tell you just this, "You know why the wind blows..", its like that.
- Raaji

Vinod R Iyer said...

Shouldn't we be going out and helping them instead of discussing this? No offence meant, but,we should rather "do" than talk abt doing it.The people who comeforth to help are no diff frm us.Its just that we are blinding ourselves while they have their eyes opened wide !!

Swathi said...

a heart-warming post from you***snif****

i get a depressed feeling whenever i look at my maid - her husband gets drunk and hits her every night and the next morning she comes to work with a bandage (and I keep asking her why does she put up with a husband like that?? and i guess it is something I would never understand).
'nother of those mystery questions without all depends on whose household you are born into...

Alka said...

A kind of helpnessness percolates, when I witness such young children working. But I try to console myself that at least they are not begging or drug addicts out on the street. its very quite heart wrenching, when "future of India" is not in school but in some petrol pump or Dhaba.

Shruthi said...

Harsha: If we do accept reality, then why these snatches of guilt and sadness?
I think it is just that we find it easier to close out that world.

Raaji: Ah I apologize. I took it as the answer to the wrong question.
But for that question, what is life about anyway, is it entirely Choice? I am not too sure if I understood the rest of what you said.. so will not comment on that!

Vinod: This post is just about that! Why we don't DO, when we KNOW that we ought to do. I am questioning why a person, who is just like me, can feel so much, and why I can't. What is the difference between the doer and thinker? This post is an expression of the turmoil in my head. It raises more questions than it answers.

Swathi: Ohh every maid is a novel in herself. And with very similar stories. Usually a villanous husband. And she puts up with the brute coz if she leaves him, she is the one who is bestowed with unfair labels. Such is society.

Alka: Helplessness - right word. Unfortunately, drugs, violence, etc., are just a step away, especially with the growing disparity in society.

Sandesh said...

You have many examples where such people will come up in life! Without anybody's support!

If we sympathize them, we are just hindering their growth! Let them face the situation.

This is what i feel! If possible, instead of givin them money, give them an oppurtunity to work!

This is what i feel! Waitin fo yo comments!

Sri Harsha said...

@ Shruthi:

I think it is pity rather than guilt that we have for these people. If you feel a sense of is likely that you wld think abt it every second.Pity is something which we feel when we come face to face with them and they haunt u for a couple of days. Then u completely forget abt tht particular encounter until the time when u have similar experience.

Shastri said...

Yes Shruthi, everytime I see such folks, I get a feeling that can more aptly named as responsibility. Yes, I feel little guilty that I was born more privilaged, I feel pity for their state, but at the same time, I feel it is mine and our collective responsibility to do something about it. I guess each one of us can and should do something about this. Not just to wash the guilt or to not feel pity, but just because we should.
I hope you remember the chat conversation we once had. I guess what we were talking then basically had the same thoughts as undercurrent. (For those who dont know about this chat, please have patience till I write up a post about it). What I was proposing there will let everyone to help the way they could. For individuals and corporates who cant spend time, it lets them pay and sit back and see the progress; for those who want to DO something, it lets them do.
Aah.. sorry for the suspense thriller. I will write in more detail soon on my blog.
But to summarise, we must feel responsible so that instead of washing our hands blaming God or government, we do something about this.

Shruthi said...

Sandesh: There definitely are amazing examples of success, but in those cases, they do have some facilitating factor. A supportive teacher, or an inspiring neighbour, somebody.
There are others who are steeped in poverty and ignorance, and these people do not even have the awareness that they have the potential.
Sympathizing will not serve any purpose, but helping will. And just sitting back and not doing anything will definitely not do anything!
As you say, give them the opportunity to work. Money is temporary. But whom will you give work to? LIttle children? I don't think so. Children should play and learn, and nothing else. When they grow older, yes, give them work.

Harsha: Pity, yes. But guilt also, yes. Even guilt can be temporary, as long as the incident is in your head.

Shastri: Yes, I did remember our conversation when I wrote about this. And I think your post is long overdue! :)

Ravi said...

Hi Shruthi,
Please get in touch with me at We would like to get in touch with you!

Ashu said...

Hi Shruti,

This is really a touching post. I love the way you and anitha have written.

I too feel the same way and nowadays I am affected a lot with it.

Right now even I am confused as to what I should do. I'll think I need to do something. But I end up doing nothing.

Have you seen the kids around forum. How they go around begging for food ? And there are ppl who will spend thousands on clothes but wont' help these kids. And I am one of them :(

Nowadays what we have started is, whenever there is a kid begging around us, we give whatever food we have in hand :)

Hope it continues.. and grows this way!

Shruthi said...

Ravi: Are you the same Ravi who writes for Metblogs? I will mail you soon.

Ashu: That was very honest. That's very sweet of you for giving them whatever is in your hand. Of course, that practice is also discouraged by some, coz they argue that you should give them food that they can afford on their own.. coz if they acquire a taste for what you are eating, and they cannot afford it themselves, it causes further harm. Well, I am not equipped to comment on this - just mentioned this reasoning.
Giving beggar kids money is not advisable too, coz they are a part of a greater ring, I have heard, and most of the money goes to the guy who sends these kids out to beg. The best bet is to probably spend a little money at a nearby stall and buy the kids some simple food, or fruits, or something like that.

Vinod R Iyer said...

I understand.Many of us do not even think abt such things.I believe one of the major problems with us is that all such feelings are momentary. I see a small child working in a restaurant.I feel bad for him. But the moment I come out of the restaurant I am plagued by other thoughts concerning me.I guess if we put in an effort we can surely make things happen.

Probably we can be a part of some NGO which works towards our area of concern.

Ashu said...

I agree with you shruti.

I prefer buying food stuff and giving to them. Actually I learnt it from my husband, who always gives food. If he's near any food stall he'll give idli or curd rice, or if he has some food in his hands he'll give it. :)

Shruthi said...

Vinod: I agree. It bothers you for a while, then you get caught up in your own life... and the unpleasant memory fades away.
There are many organizations which work for kids and the less-privileged. If we cannot do anything ourselves, the least we can do is support the existing organizations!

Ashu: That's very kind of your husband. I think that's the best thing we can do for them, at that moment at least!

Pradeep said...

I too used to get affected by this, but only until as I got to know more about the darker sides of this world. That's another side of this world which we have to just accept.

What we can do is to be good and helpful to people around us. Because everyone is in some way disadvantaged and handicapped.

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