Yesterday was one of those strange days when a quirk of fate makes you come to face with both end of a spectrum. I am not one to readily accept a lunch invitation to the latest place in town, but a dear friend and supporter of pwhy insisted I come. I could not refuse. So there I was peeking into my wardrobe for an appropriate attire and getting ready to travel to a part of the town I had not visited for as long as I could remember. I was about to leave when a distressed and seemingly agitated pair entered the room: Rani and Shamika had just returned from a visit to Radha's home.
Though visibly perturbed, the girls took a long time to find the words to express what they were feeling. After some time they shared their angst in almost incoherent phrases : You will not believe, you have to crawl in, the child was practically naked..there was nothing in the house... and so on.
I sat quietly listening to them. What till yesterday had simply been second hand information had today become real. You can raise your eyebrows in horror when you are told about a dwelling whose roof is four feet high, or that is barely 8 square feet, you can try and imagine what life can be in such conditions, but nothing prepares you for what you feel when it hits you in the face, even your 9 years of toiling in slums. The two young women had experienced just that. And I knew that it was something they would not forget for long and that may even hold their hand back the next time they set out on one of their wild shopping sprees.
It was time for me to leave. On my long ride in the chilly wind (three wheelers do not have windows) I kept thinking of Radha's family and of all those who faced similar situations in this heartless city. A multitude of questions came to mind, each left unanswered. I reached my destination and finally the famous cafe where my friend awaited me. It was a swanky place, which made you wonder where you were, as there was very little of India there: the staff was all from the North East, even the clocks on the wall showed the time in about 5 different time zones. The crowd was mostly expatriate with a sprinkling of very westernised country mates, who even spoke with the accent acquired on their last trip abroad. No vernacular please.
My friend, also an expat was waiting on a terrace table and we were soon lost in conversation. Still filled with images of Radha's world, the conversation soon turned to the plight of the poor and the ever increasing gap between the two Indias. One thing led to the other. My friend told me how shocked she was at the contempt with which the rich people she frequented talked about the poor, even those who worked for them. I simply listened. We talked about the lack of compassion in the young and the violence that was growing at an alarming rate. The gang rape of the young student was high on your minds. That the perpetrators were barely out of their teens made us wonder what was it that was missing in today's nurturing of the young. And what was it that had been different in our days. We both agreed on the fact that no matter how privileged you were, in earlier times there were boundaries that we all respected: controlled spending money, respect of values, fixed time tables and so on. Today's youth seemed rudderless and the only value instilled in them was that of money be it with the rich or the not so rich.
It was time to leave. I must confess that I had felt a tad uncomfortable sitting in that almost alien place. The ride back was even more chilling: was it the wind that had turned colder or my thoughts more disturbed. The day passed and I went to bed still perturbed.
This morning a mail dropped in my inbox. It gave me a link to a blog post entitled even these least, a post about in the words of the author: the bleeding heart stuff. It is an incisive and thought provoking tirade about why one gives to another. The author makes some interesting remarks and shares some real experiences. He writes: I'm not a bleeding heart, by a long shot. I could blame time and space and life, or perhaps it never was in me. I really don't know. Moral triage is something every person carries out on a daily basis, navigating through the million abrasions of the daily grind. Constrained by my own needs, I can and do walk off from situations and places without necessarily feeling heart-broken. What is amazing, however, is that there always seems to be somebody who cares...These are cold, cold times, dear heart. Maybe they are merely lamps, giving a feeble light; maybe they aren't able to warm anything except a few hearts. But I see plenty of people around me doing the most unlikely things...
People who, on a larger scale, are trying to do something, anything that will make at least one more person happy, one more person safe....
I have asked myself, in some of my retrospective moments, what made me do what I am doing today, have asked myself whether the kudos that come my way time and again are deserved, whether it is some virtuous road I walk or whether I just do what I can in a set of given circumstances? Probably that is what it is: not a quest for acclaim or a righteous crusade, I simply do what I can.