She was at least six months pregnant; her other child seen here, looked up at us with vacant eyes. The woman’s pale face brightened; in minutes every container of food we gave them was ripped open as they ate till their wrists were messy. I couldn’t sleep that night. The first time we saw this family living under a cart in a back lane at Shvaji nagar(busy market area locally), we gave them some food and money. It all seemed too little help for their cracked lips and skins shiny with too many hours in our Indian winter sun.
The next morning we contacted a renowned NGO that was willing to take them in, provided we got local police clearance, which we were willing to get for them. Five mins later, the NGO called to say, “We will get the family in our van ourselves.Legal clearance shouldn’t be a problem. There’s work, food, shelter, provided they are willing.”
Oh. Thoroughly happy with all this, we went back to family under cart in that back lane, with news of help. Their kid could get a life, the young mom could get maternity assistance, her husband – a job. All this with a legal nod. But uh uh. The man looked eager for what was being offered: he worked where he could – cleaning floors, sweeping the street early mornings, but the woman turned into steel. “We are fine.”
“Aren’t you scared of being in the open here, day and night? And in your condition? “
Her yellow eyes flattened. “No.” She said. Gone was the gaunt lost look. The woman looked formidable, a street creature with lower lip sass & arm on hip. We haggled over their safety and future;
their child crawled back under rusting cart which wasn’t theirs. The man gave me a sad smile, as his wife stuck her jaw out. “You don’t want help?” I asked, now embarrassed.
Another young man with them(you see his hand in the photograph), said, “Help.” Then he furthered that with asking for help for himself. Every time I spoke to this couple, the woman muttered at me, the husband looked sadder, and the neighbour asked help for himself.
He almost got to me, before a flower seller and another approached us with severe disapproval, (as the couple + kid disappeared).
“This boy is a local thief, he is mentally ill and will harass you all. “
The local “thief” was breaking my heart by now. Kitsy our daughter bought flowers from the vendor, beetroot for her dad’s salad (after Angioplasty, we are all eating better, every day is a beautiful reminder of miracles, all that…till we got here, to ShivajiMarket, for better veggies).
No, the NGO couldn’t place the boy- local authorities would need to clear him, they said in a quick text. How old was he, 20? His face was a mess of fear, desperation and aloneness. Grandma was all he had; he suffered from fits and was possibly a kleptomaniac. No, the NGO could not help him; this was a legal issue and I was advised to get home. We gave the boy some food and pocket money; his desperation seared thru me, as we got in an auto- rick back home.
Helpless-ness. What a word. What a world. All the need in me to help him didn’t seem to help. The flower & vegetable seller who knew this boy, kind of took care of him. They had even heard of the NGO that was willing to help the family (who disappeared as we spoke).
A strange kind of rejection this was turning into. Flower seller heard me out, and shook his head. “Who gets help like this?” He asked as he handed us a bouquet of lavender asters wrapped in newspaper. “….who refuses work these days? And who are you?”
Who was I ? With an unintelligible reply we had headed home after wading through street food and sellers of scarves, bright kurtas, junk jewelry, cane garden furniture and gaudy green guavas cut in with red chilly and salt.
The world is a strange place: the older I get the more I see it as a Union of Acceptance or Rejection – even from the most unlikely quarters. One sees the strangest Collabs of Innocence & Crime.
That young “thief” had the most innocent eyes I’ve seen in a bit. Local neighbors called him a chronic crook, oh not to be trusted anyplace. But – what if he had a base that could help him? “Help“, he’d said.
I don’t know.
Back home, we are not very strong ourselves, except deep within where I grow my vineyard of Prayer. Here one eats the salt of tears, of sensitivities sharpening by rejection, even from the most fragile sections of our society. Where have we gone wrong, so wrong that Independence is now settling in with lack of social security?
Oh the stories our lanes and lies tell. Some tell me there’s no use just praying. But every single time I meet my Maker, there’s a new face calling from yet another back lane. And they may run away from any kind of assistance; hmm, look it is scary to trust strangers,
can a tiny Molecule of Care provoke Change?
Maybe, yes. Even in our self.
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