It was 17th July 2019, half past two, steaming hot afternoon, in Kolkata. I was stuck in this horrific, terrifying traffic jam at the Park Circus 7 point crossing. The car was air conditioned. Husband and I were fetching daughter from school. We were heading straight to City Centre Mall, for ordering my new pair of spectacles. I was hating the traffic, as my mind was preoccupied between, buying a new pair of specks and consulting an eye doctor for a lasik surgery. Still I chose the mall, as a couple of months back, a female friend, had complemented, that I looked great with specks. One gossip girl praising another, now that’s surely something. So, the daughter sat in the front seat, next to her father, and I, was obviously scowling at the back of my comfortable, air conditioned, lethargic car. Just then, three poor, scantily clad, roadside kids holding a bunch of red and yellow smiley balloons appeared from nowhere. They knocked at the window, and, I gracefully shooed them away, with my hand, signalling we weren’t interested in buying balloons. My daughter was already six, and no more interested in balloons.
Barging back, into my thoughts and preferences, of adding new tints and shades to my pretty face, I heard my husband whisper, “See, the police is taking the balloons.”“I hope they are paying too,” I said thoughtlessly. But hey, everyone in the city knows, the police never pays. So I looked up attentively. Inside an olive green gypsy, positioned diagonal to us, I could see a generous bunch of red balloons. My husband quickly took pictures that are posted below.
No, the policemen didn’t pay. As, they weren’t the police. They were the Indian Army Officers. They bought an entire bunch from one of the children and took a few more from the other two. My daughter asked, “how many kids do they have at home?” There were literally tears in my eyes as I answered, “Baby, they are not buying for their own kids but these poor children living on the streets.”
Though I myself didn’t set an example for my six year old, to follow, that day, I was happy she learnt from the surroundings. It is an art within itself, to learn without experiencing, or vicariously living some thing. Although in this case an experience would have been towards the happier shining side.
As the traffic unfolded and my air conditioned lethargic car yawned and grumbled towards the elongated stretched Maa Flyover, it was enlightening and disgusting synchronously. As a kid, I remember, enjoying distributing coins to the kids, begging at the busy Minto Park crossing. One day, when my mom was out of coins, and I was crying for the same, she explained to me the ‘beggary racket’ going on in the city. The beggar were dropped out of vans to different traffic points and they would give a part of their collection to their leaders as commission.
I think I confused these hard working, balloon selling, scantily clad kids with the begging ones. These little balloons sellers were making a point, “Yes we are born to poverty-stricken parents. Yet, we aren’t impoverished in values and self respect. Buy from us, and we will be able to eat. Buy from us, and we teach the lazy beggars, the lesson of labour. Buy from us, because we need it more, than your vanity bill.” Buying a balloon wouldn’t have hurt me. But, it would have mattered tremendously to these little light workers passionately selling them. In my case the daughter would have been happy. After all, she is a six year old, who has been arduously trained, to not ask for material things.
Also, this small gesture by the army officials made me ponder, if everyone, including myself could be a little more thoughtful, kind and caring.
Every morning, when we read the newspapers, or browse through twitter or WatsApp, we come across reports of lynchings, stories of molestations, accounts of brutal rapes, communal murders, etc. As we proceed through our day, we are coaxed into believing that the blue in our little planet encapsulates immorality and evil spirit. And we readily feed this junk to our half-baked, gullible souls, overlooking the the exuberant life around us.
Instead, we need to look with our glittering eyes, for benevolence, affection, sharing and reaching out to the once in need, confirming to the idea of language of love, that serves as the essence of our existence.
Copyright © Neha Jhunjhunwala
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