Yesterday, I headed toward Sahara Mall to pick my laptop that I had given for repair ages ago. When I drive alone, I always listed to FM. It is full of Valentine’s Day stuff these days. Some poor soul from somewhere called the RJ and said he would be alone on V Day, as he has no one special in his life at this point of time. The RJ was all gyan. Go to a nice place, and pamper yourself, etc.
I wonder, did the TV crew notice the pavement outside the mall? This is how it looks, pretty heart wrenching, to me. I am inside the glass enclosure and I see all gloss. But as soon as I come out, I also see a lot of grime. And that puts a dampener on my thoughts and the spending spree.
A few of you may remember my first experience with a 100 rupee note that in most cases cannot buy a large shampoo bottle. It probably cannot buy a branded lipstick too these days? But it can buy food for ten people on a roadside food stall.
So, this time around I saw a family of three, mother, daughter and son. They are garbage pickers and they looked extremely weary. The girl, who must have been 12 to 14 year old, was sitting on the seat of their garbage rickshaw. Her brother was sitting on the heap of the plastic and must have been 5 to 7 year old. The mother’s face was lined and full of worry, it is very difficult to put an age to it.
I asked the girl in Hindi, if I can buy food for her? She was speechless but her mother nodded her head. I said I would buy it for the other kid and her too. We again went to a roadside stall and we waited for the food to be ready. The mother told me, she would like to carry away the food and this was the first time she clearly opened her mouth. She could barely speak Hindi with a thick Bengali accent. In fact, the word ‘polythene’ was the only clue I had as to what she was trying to say. All the while when we were waiting, they had a look of disbelief on their face. I moved on after handing them their food. I did not have the heart to ask them for a picture.
A little ahead, these two kids started begging for money. I told them I would buy food. I don’t know if they did not understand or what, they said no. I started to move ahead. Then they called me back and very timidly asked if I would buy a Pepsi for them! I bought one bottle between the two. I don’t know why they asked for Pepsi. Two other girls asked for a packet of chips. May be, they are part of organized begging and were not hungry. They have left me with a nagging doubt but I do not have the heart to judge two such small kids. And which kid does not want a Pepsi or chips? My total bill till now was rupees 75, 45 rupees for a meal for three, 20 for a bottle of Coke and 10 for a packet of chips.
Side story 1: A young lad at the stall from where I bought the Coke (they had no Pepsi) said Aap kahan inke chakkar mein aa gaye (why are you bothering with them?) I mumbled a reply that I do not want to give money, as I am not sure if it would remain with them.
Side story 2: As I interact with kids and others on the pavement, it attracts a lot of attention. After buying the packet of chips, as I was moving on, a driver (witness to all this) sitting on the railings in front of the DT mall spitted aimlessly and it landed quite near me. For the first time in my life, I heard someone apologizing after it. He shouted after me, “Sorry madam!”
I went inside the Metropolitan mall later. I went into Tommy Hilfiger and Marks & Spencer outlets (more out of curioisty than a genuine desire to buy and a first of sorts), looking for a long coat in the winter sale. At the Hilfiger shop, I told the sales staff, they had by mistake put an extra zero in the price tag of the coat. The guy laughed a lot. That damn coat was priced originally at 12,000 (you read it right) rupees! M&S had a similar price. I bet they pay less than this amount as monthly salary to the doorman they employ.
So, coming back to the Valentine’s Day, do go out and do spend a lot and have a nice time by yourself or with your special friend. But if possible, spend 75 rupees on the people outside the mall.
I have made a mental note to buy stuff first for people who are trying to sell something or make a living in any way and not simply begging. But for kids, I will buy a Pepsi or Coke any day.
And before I sign off, read this interesting article from Gonomad, by Mark Helyar on his experience with street kids in India.