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?