Once a week I go to a nearby commercial complex and wait.
My daughter attends a coaching class there and has a class till 9 pm. Sometimes the class goes on almost till 9.30. Although the complex is pretty close to home there is a slum in the area and I do not feel very comfortable letting her walk home alone.
The complex has a few eateries. There are some coaching centres. There are also some other shops and the place is generally very vibrant and alive at that time. It is a nice place to watch people. Last week when I was waiting for my daughter to finish her class a very interesting episode happened.
A street urchin, a boy of nine or ten, started begging people for some money. He said he was hungry and had not eaten anything that day. He said he wanted some money to buy food. He looked unkempt, though he wore rather decent clothes. He also wore shoes. For some reason, shoes are important to me. In my mind, that is a measure of poverty. A completely shoe less boy or girl always evoke greater sympathy. Perhaps because he noticed I did not carry any purse, the boy did not approach me. And even if he had, I doubt I would have given him any money. But he did ask a well dressed man who alighted from a swanky car. The man did not even spare a second glance at the boy and moved away. And that set me thinking. Are our rich less sensitive? Are they completely immune to other people's pain? And am I also slowly losing my empathetic side?
Just then, a young boy and his girl friend, perhaps in their late teens spotted the urchin and called him. They took him to a tea stall and bought him a vada-pav, Mumbai's favourite all time snack. Looking at the young couple, my heart filled with joy. I forgot all about my earlier ruminations. See the young people of
! How different they are from the earlier generation! The youth of our country indeed have their hearts in the right place. They have plenty of empathy, and they do care about their poor fellow country men. In just a few minutes, my dark thoughts had changed colours. My India was on the right track and I was upbeat and optimistic once again. India
What do you think happened next? The moment the young couple turned away, the small boy without any hesitation, fed the vada pav to a street dog. He was not hungry, he just wanted some money... perhaps to gamble, perhaps to smoke. May be even to buy drugs. He definitely was not impressed with the young couple's generosity. A few minutes later, he started begging again.
So tell me, was the man in the swanky car heartless or was he just wise? Were the teenage boy and the girl naive? If they knew the young boy made a fool of them, would they ever give anything to any body again? And what about the boy? Did he even care?
The incident upset me, I do not know why. May be because it reminded me that I live in a metro where a lot of people do not care how the other half lives. That I live in a metro where a lot of people tend to think it is all right to con others. Or may be because I was reminded that I live in a metro where a lot of caring people stop giving just because they can not tell whether they are being taken for a ride...