It was a long journey. The train clanging its wheels as it rattled forward through unnamed lands that skirted dry beds of farmland. I looked out the painted blue window bars at cows grazing the parched red earth. That is the first thing you notice when you step outside your home land, the colour of the earth. As I traveled southward in my journey, I noticed it change. First, from a dark shade of brown to a pale yellow to pitch black. I traveled past empty fields. Empty, for human habitation. Animals have a knack of surviving where man gives up. Maybe they make it a point ot survive where man gives up. As I watched out the window, life inside the compartment took its own course. People settled in their seats and munched on oily foods. Thirsting for water every hour, as a thirsty young man, sweating and carrying the entire tub of cold water filled their needs. I couldn’t help but laughing at my thoughts. I thought I was traveling for fun, sometimes normalcy takes a lot of effort.
Indian railways has an alternate commercial enterprise thriving in it. Salesmen and beggars alike, throng this moving tin can carrying their wares and high tenor. The beggars often are more successful in selling their ware – sympathy. They’ll come in all shapes and sizes. Blind, deaf, dumb, young and old. Their bones sticking out from under their bare skin, teasing you to dig into your pockets. But any Indian is used to suffering. So much that he has turned to apathy as a resting place in his soul. I could never fathom the expressionless stares on the faces of my friends and their neighbours alike as they brushed off kids begging. I could not. But who am I to speak? How many people have I provided for? I am just another beggar living on the scraps of my own people. How many of those eyes have I seen when asking? A poor man has no right to be sympathetic. Not when he himself craves that emotion. Anybody else who does the same, is to him, competition.
I might have walked past them on a railway station. I am not the sympathetic fool, that I write like. I am a ‘bastard’. If I may say so. Crudity has this unreal way of telling the truth. Nothing seems real unless preceded by an expletive, in its most crude form. But they are always around. Naked, hungry and growing society of beggars. Waiting for a piece of their bread. But do they deserve it? What makes a man/woman give up everything and turn to begging? An ‘occupation’ so self deprecating and insulting…why would someone want to wake up everyday to that? I know people wh complain because their boss asks them to do what they are paid to do. Then why do these people do what they do? No other way seems to be an easier answer. NO other way!!
I looked again at the boy sweeping the floor with his shirt. He seemed to be in good shape. Better than me, at least. He tugged at my pants again, saying something like ‘saab’. As if I was a ‘saab’. I took out the change from my last cup of coffee and held it out to him. He grabbed it in his dirty hands and tucked it in his pants. I looked at his face, searching for the hint of a smile. Something that assured me I had done something that was of help to him. Nothing. The same blank look that had haunted my friend’s face before. What had I done then?