We live in perverted times. We live through injustice, through phases where our morals are continuously challenged, broken, formed and rewritten. We live through dark truths and white lies. We live through divisions of class and of status.
We live through varying degrees of emotions- envy, pride, lust and fear. But there is a catch. We still manage to live through it. All because we have got people we can fall back on. We’ve got people to fight our fights with us, for us. We’ve got people to protect us and to sustain us. Someone always has our back. And we’ve got a family, comprising of angels, not the kind with the halos and wings but the kind that we can rely on to take us back home when home becomes a strange place.
And then there are those who haven’t felt a sense of belonging for so long now that they are almost sure there is no one out there to stand up for them. Those who have no expectations or wants or needs or desires and even if they do they’ve learnt to suppress them far too well. Those who have learnt and accepted dejection as a part of life, a part of their being. The under privileged ones. The unheard ones. The ignored ones. The other ones. Who we can euphemise and call the financially impaired ones. But the truth remains the same, constant in its basking glory- We have created them and we are the ones who are going to incur their wrath.
I met her in front of the Sai Mandir. I had come straight from college after deciding to bunk the last two lectures. I had around 5 hours to myself in which I hoped to do something good enough to impress my professor and get respectable grades. This project that had pumped me up with positive energy at its initiation period had left me high and dry halfway through. I had no idea on how to proceed. I couldn’t just frame up facts at my will. I needed something concrete. Something that would hit the reader like a dagger through his heart. And I had my sights set on this lady beggar whose story had intrigued me so very much the first time around that I had decided to pursue her and know all that there was to know about her. Her story had intrigued me so very much the first time that I had visited her around with the other group members that I had decided to pursue her story with all that I had, only this time around I planned on doing it alone, probably me selfishness taking over the better part of me. I hoped this escapade would be worth it because I would be better dead if the other members found about my infamous tirades.
I found her where I had seen her the last time I had visited the Sai Mandir, on the front steps.
Probably above 70, she was quite fit for her age. An erect spine that was not used to bending. She had a wit about her and joked about the over-crowded temple and how the Gods healed more than all the doctors of the city. Every square inch of her personality reflected pride.
The temple was crowded but her pride didn’t let her beg for space to sit, she rather chose to stand beside the door. She picked up a fallen bit of newspaper and started reading it. I was standing near her. And then I observed that her legs were shaking, it was too hard on her to stand there in a moving crowd. After struggling with her pride for some time, she proceeded to sit on the floor, laughing at her own helplessness.
The temples are nowadays cleaned even while they are open. I saw this sweeper sweeping through the temple and up to the old woman. And when he saw that she was not standing up, he duly proceeded by throwing all the dust right beside the old woman, I saw a empty lays packet fly back into the old woman’s lap.
If this was not enough there was this lady who arrogantly scolded this woman just because she had accidently tugged on her leg when being pushed by the crowd. When this person hurried to get in to the temple to get something to eat, there was this guy, who made a joke on her and suddenly laughter erupted around. With swallowed pride, i saw her laughing at herself.
I was moved at this sad spectre of humanity. Almost near tears, i saw her pack up her stuff.
it had already begun to turn dark , the dawn giving way to dusk. She said something about dusk being symbolical for her life. I told her i wanted to talk to her some more and she offered to take me to her home. I wasn’t sure but the fear of a professor makes you do so many crazy things, me accompanying her probably one of them.
All through the way she kept on telling me about her daily schedule and i kept questioning her, prodding her to go on further. She told me that her daily earning amounts somewhere close to 700-800 rupees. To top that, she also gets food from the temple and all she has to do is squat all day.
I admit that i was beginning to turn judgemental and pity wasn’t associating itself with this woman in my mind anymore. And then she told me about her life.
With all the good times comes but one guarantee, that it must end. Same was the case with her life. She belonged to a lower middle class family and had a husband who served the government with a clerical job. She had a son and the three of them were spending their days in peace and calm of the city. And then, 5 years before, her husband fell from the roof and died. With his downfall, came hers too. The son disowned her completely and the relatives turned their backs on her. With no roof over her head and all but a meagre pension of 300 rupees per month sustaining her, she turned to this profession.
Suddenly she put a stop to her story and rounded a bend to leave the road for a dirt track. Both sides on this way were lined by slums, thatched houses with plastic sheets as roof and walls. I begin to feel sorry for her again, a woman so old living in one of these houses, so small and dirty. But she didn’t stop to venture into any one of them, although people greeted her and children ran after her as she went. Everyone out here knew her and respected her. before I could ask her the reason, she ventured through a gate into a house, all white washed and with stark clean exteriors it wasn’t a mansion or any such kind of thing but it also wasn’t what you would expect of a beggar to have. There were two scooters out front that she told anyone in need was allowed to take. She took me inside and made me sit in the first room (which we generally call the drawing room but a beggar having a drawing room would sound so weird, eh?). She went to change and was back in 15 minutes looking way too decent for a beggar. Gone was the dirt over her face, those parched lips, the shackles of her hair and it was replaced by beauty, a face crossed with freckles but in peace and calm.
Seeing my senses clouded with suspicion, she answered my unspoken questions. “I am not your typical helpless, ailing, hopeless and dying beggar.” “I figured out way before that my age could be played to my advantage and that emotional fools were easy pickings for me.”
“You saw the slums outside? I am their bank. I loan them money and help them in situations. I hardly need anything for myself and I still manage to earn 800 rupees on an off day. That’s 24,000 per month. Imagine what that money could do if put to good use.”
“These people, when I met them, didn’t have a home. They fought and quarrelled and drunk away all their money. Today, go out and see. Each one of them understands life and is committed to the upliftment of his or her family standards. See, the thing is that once you taste success, you get addicted to it.”
So, to state in short, I help them get at par with the society, to balance all the living. I understand that no two fingers of a hand are of the same length but then there isn’t that much of a difference between them too.”
I was astounded. She smiled diabolically and got up to make some tea.
God, was she rich, with all she had around her, as opposed to some people who are so poor that all they have is money.
It was all justified. I couldn’t blame her. She was taking from the world what was due of her.
She was right. And she had proved the world wrong. When I asked her something about what was going to happen to these people after she was gone she replied in a very nonchalant way that the world wasn’t going to run out of old people anywhere soon.
The world had cast a dark cloud over her life. And she had clung onto the silver lining. A very different kind of silver lining indeed.