Saturday, January 3, 2009

For a little girl

She walked up to me and said, 'Popcorn, sir?'

I said, 'No, thanks', and continued walking towards my car. But I could hear her walking behind me, requesting me to buy because she hadn't finished her quota for the day and the night was already done. I thought about all I'd just spent just before walking there and took out a ten from my wallet and turned around to face her. She seemed to misconstrue that as a donation and said, sternly, 'I don't take charity, sir. If you want to, you can buy the popcorn, it's twenty a pack.' I smiled at her and took out another ten, took the pack and walked away to my car.

And, after our little meeting, here's what our respective lives choose to do with us. I get to get into my car, switch on the AC, pop in a CD of my choice and enjoy a marvellous drive under a velvety bright, starry sky. And what does she get to do? Roam around parking lots pursuing strangers and requesting them to buy something they know very well they don't want. Telling them the sad story that is her life, hoping, praying, pleading. Crushing her own spirit, one word at a time. Fair?

I'm just the fortunate one, and she isn't? Life isn't just? And she's supposed to lap up these philosophical treatises and just carry on with her simply 'unfortunate' life? Is that all there is to it? I live with a little girl who is of a similar age yet knows nothing of that. That life isn't about luxuriously decorated duplex homes, ready-to-be-beckoned housemaids, timely arranged meals, chauffeured sedans and designer accessories. Many of us don't. We've lived life, but we don't know how we'd feel if life lived us. We don't know how it would feel to haggle for a single rupee, how it would feel to never know where your next meal would come from, how it would feel to beg somebody for a trifle and get pushed away, how it would feel to be at the mercy of the whims of a cruel life. We don't. Because we choose not to. Fate, we tell ourselves. That word, that impotent word that life teaches us to fall back on when confronted with a question we don't care enough to answer.

We live in an alternate reality, insulated from the truth, looking at it through tinted windows that glorify us and eliminate everything else unpleasant to our sight. How we remove those melancholic sidewalks from our life, how we neglect the ground realities that permeate the consciousness of the country we live in, how we choose not to know that three-quarters of the country we live in survives on less that twenty rupees a day, the same amount I paid for that pack of popcorn. Do we even care that we live in a country which, at the root of it all, irrespective of what overpaid, Armani-clad executives in air conditioned boardrooms may proclaim, still remains a poor old woman, with an ailing heart? Are we doing all we can? When will we realise that placing a few good apples in a basket full of rotten ones cannot hide the stench?

But let's leave it there. I don't want to digress, and I'm not here to judge. I want this to be just about the little girl, nothing else. What should I have done? Maybe I should have bought her whole bag and helped out her quota, maybe I should have written down my number and given it to her to contact me in case she ever needed any help. I don't know what I could or couldn't have done to alleviate her pain but I can't shake the image off my mind. Burnt into my memory, that look in her eyes. Innocence tainted with anguish. Tears prowling at the edges, sick of life, sick of herself, sick of me, sick of you.

There are many emotions stirring inside me at this moment but I admit, above all of them, I'm scared. Scared for her. Scared beyond everything that has ever scared me. Life takes the best of us and breaks us down, what chance does a little girl have?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

If I say 'That's life' instead of 'fate', will 'life' also become impotent?

mansoor said...

very touching... really liked reading ur post... had a similar experience a couple of years back in hyd... I reacted in a similar way...i guess can relate to ur post.

Vivek Mogili said...

I agree with whatever you have said-"fate" and "destiny" are two ubiquitous words one uses to circumvent difficult questions and when confronted head on with improbabilistic events...do away with these words and unravel the latent potentials you possess....