I was waiting for my bus to college.
It was a week ago. It’s a December afternoon. And it’s winter. I have always hated winters in Chennai. It is generally as warm as it is during summers with occasional cool breeze. And that afternoon, it recorded 30 degrees on the Celsius scale.
The Vadapalani temple is 5 minutes north from where I live. And it is 100 meters from the east mada of this temple that I had to board a bus to college. The average teenager would find this place vapid. Nothing glamorous about it. It was on a few days grossly overcrowded. Unsanitary even.
Everything around here is a little backward in time. The place is just a result of the fraudulent cosmopolitan image of the post 90’s India having thrust itself on the ancient tradition refusing to make way.
The road is lined with shops selling pilgrim essentials, flowers, cheap toys, cosmetics and Made in China goods. And near the bus stop where I was standing, the ground is dug out by the electricity workers to re-lay lines. The road is still wet from the showers of the previous night. I know this place like the back of my hand; Apart from the fact I have lived here my entire life, the place has really not changed much. And on the other side of the road are shops selling jewellery, clothing and groceries. I know every shop by its name and position. Very small changes were made in the past decade; what was once ‘Vijaya Stores’ is now ‘Happy Provisions’. On the pavement, are seated the ladies selling fruits and garlic.
On a dry day, one can see the dust ascending from the roads. The dustbins are overflowing and there is a faint smell of rotten fruits in the air. I am really kind of used to the smell by now.
Five meters from where I was standing, is the first ever restaurant of Hotel Saravana Bhavan chain; The restaurant is closed temporarily for repair works. In their car park, however was parked an Audi A6, which I presumed belonged to the manager of the hotel or the owner’s son.
It’s been ten minutes since I’ve been waiting for my bus to arrive.
Two college guys were standing beside me- one with curly hair and a bag worn so low, a black ‘Absolut Chennai’ T-shirt, skin the colour of coffee. The other guy taller and light-skinned than the first, had long hair tied to a pony. Both of them, I thought- pretentious as fuck. These were the only two ‘things’ that reminded me that the year is 2013. 2014 almost. Oh and A.D., btw.
Their bus arrived. I told them a silent farewell. I plugged my earphones-first into the left ear and right. ‘Keep talking’ by Pink Floyd playing. I sing along in my head….
”I sit in the corner, so no one will bother me…”.
I was just looking around in total despair. I’d be late to college. Not that I had a problem with that. But I expect things to happen in my pace.
A bus. Not mine.
A crow flew from a tree on the side walk towards a bus. 25G. The crow hit on the bus’ window. Fell down. I wasn’t sure if it died. A wheel of the bus ran over it. Sure.
There were a sizable number of people waiting for their buses. All very usual-the workers, college girls, kids with their parents.
My mood switched from meditative to pensive. I was just staring out in to a distance, with unseeing eyes.
From a distance, I saw a lady walking towards the bus stop with a baby on the side of her hip, held with one hand. Slowly, weakly. She was thin and dark, her hair brown from the heat. It’s certainly been a while since she’d brushed or oiled her hair. Her sari was a faded blue, the blouse-a crimson. The baby was gorgeous and must’ve been around six months old, dressed in a skirt and a blouse too big for her. She came walking towards me. Looked at me, prayerfully. Held out her hands to me, asking for just any money. Persuading passively, she said “I haven’t eaten in three days,”. Silence.
Her hand which did not hold the baby went up to her tiny breasts, involuntarily “There is no milk for the baby, also.”. I suppressed a laugh. (I know where milk comes from).
Familiar Silence. Questions flooded my head.
Why did she choose me of all the people standing there to ask for alms from? Did I look sympathetic? I didn’t like it. Or was it just that I seemed to be looking at her?
Was the baby really hers. Clearly, she did not want a baby. It is, to me, against every logic that she wanted to have a baby. Chances are that a rag picker or an alcoholic impregnated her. Without her consent, perhaps. Maybe it was a rape. Or maybe not. Whatever be the case, she was a mother of a baby that she did not want.
And the baby was a girl. And she did not have milk to feed the baby.
Or what if the baby was not hers at all! What if she is only carrying her around to gain sympathy. To make her situation look worse than it actually was. This would be a case of human trafficking in its primitive form.
At six months, the baby did not have milk. And at the age of three, the chances that she goes to school are slim. And if she attained puberty, how would she be able to afford sanitation? And there is also this- at this rate how strong is the probability that she attains puberty. Will she live till she is twelve? She may die. Honestly, death didn’t look like a very sad ending here.
Let’s say all goes well. What would she end up being? A sweeper? A house keeper? A Prostitute?
The baby did not have a choice. And it was not the baby’s fault.
The knowledge that by every chance, I could have been that baby; anyone could have been that baby, stung me. Nobody ever said life is fair.
Poverty is one thing. Poverty is a reality in a society like India. But it is other things that poverty leads to like- illiteracy, unemployment and which again in turn lead to poverty are problems of a bigger magnitude. (The vicious cycle of poverty that one would learn about in eighth grade Economics came to my mind.). With very few exceptions, poverty leads to a more severe kind of poverty.
Is charity enough?
Isn’t the system flawed entirely. Isn’t the mismanagement of resources to be blamed?
Nature is abundant. There is enough food for everyone in the world. The hot-dog you threw away because it was cold on the inside? Not food?
Should I call myself blessed and be grateful for the things I have?
Like what my mother says ,” No matter how hard your life gets, there are thousands that envy the life you have, the opportunities you get. “.
Or should I introspect myself on how much I’ve taken for granted?
How well have I lived?
How many days in my life really count?
Is it possible for me to bring about a change? If yes, how? What kind of a change? How big?
This lady was standing next to me, still looking imploringly. I grew irate. It is not up to me to help everyone out of their difficulties.
I turned away coldly at first and then, moved away from her. My bus arrived. Twenty minutes late. “One college road” I tell the conductor,handing out a ten rupee note.
I didn’t notice the reaction on the lady’s face. Maybe she was disappointed. Disappointment, by this time should be a feeling she’s used to.