I know Mumbai has only two seasons – Summer and Monsoon; no Winter at all.
It took me one year to understand that Delhi too has only two seasons – Summer and Winter – no Monsoon at all. I mean it rains, but it is not like a ‘rainy season’.
So, while moving around Nehru Place, I was thirsty. Though it was month of July, the Sun was blazing. I was amused with this habit of Delhi to name Malls after great historical persons. Nehru Place, Bhikaji Kama Place, Aurobindo Place, Rajendra Place …. All these places are basically Shopping Complexes.
I went to a small shop. There were many ‘cold (soft) drinks’. I almost don’t like any of those. Maybe I should drink water – I thought. Suddenly I experienced some movement at my side. A young girl was standing by my side and looking at me expectantly. She was about 8 to 10 years. Her frock was torn at many places but it was clean. Her hair was unkempt. She looked weak. Her eyes were big – maybe because of her malnourished status, the eyes looked bigger. She was touching my Kurta and was trying to smile.
I smiled to that young girl. I asked, “Are you hungry?”
“No, I just had some food,” her honest answer surprised me.
“Well, “ I did not know what to speak next.
“What are you going to drink?” she asked me.
Well, I was thinking of drinking water – but I knew that was not what she expected.
“What would you like to have?” I asked.
She looked at me in disbelief.
I repeated the question.
“I never had that” – she showed me one bottle with some hesitation.
The shopkeeper was getting impatient.
“Madam, don’t pay any attention to her. They are beggars. All the day they follow some or the other. Give her a rupee or two, that is all.” He advised me.
I asked the shopkeeper to give two bottles of what the girl had indicated. It was badam milk – cold milk with almond pieces and sugar. It was good. I liked it.
The girl was trying to finish the drink in a hurry. I told her not to hurry.
She looked happy and satisfied.
When she finished half of the bottle, she stopped suddenly.
“What happened? Don’t you like it?” I asked.
She was clearly in two minds.
She looked at the half finished bottle once and looked at a distant corner again.
Then she came to a decision.
“I want to take this to my young brother. Can you wait for five minutes? I will just take the bottle to him and bring the empty bottle. You know he too never had this, I liked it and I want him to have this” she pleaded.
I was touched by her innocence. Who would give something for others so easily?
The shopkeeper and the people around were watching the scene with interest now.
I smiled at them, they smiled back to me.
“Finish your milk first. Will take another one for your brother,” I told the young one.
I asked for the third bottle. Gave that to the girl. Asked her if she wanted any more.
She said, only one bottle would do – as her elder siblings and parents have tested the badam milk some other time.
I asked the shopkeeper to charge me for the price of the (empty) bottle – in case the girl forgets to return the bottle to him.
“What are you talking Madam? We are not so bad. Let the girl take the bottle and return whenever. Does not matter if we miss one empty bottle,” he said, everybody around nodded.
“After all she stays here. We are sort of neighbors. But many customers don’t like them around and so we shout at them,” another one explained.
“Come again,” the girl said to me.
“Do come again Madam,” the shopkeepers said with smile.
Who knows, I might have been in the place of that girl!
Or if life changes to worst, I might have to beg one day!!
At times even if I cannot give money or food to beggars, I treat them with dignity.
Life is full of uncertainties – but I have no fear.
Guilt? Yes I feel some sort of guilt.
How can I say that I live in a cultured society where people have to beg for food and have to live on streets?
How can I spend so much for non-needs when millions have no ways of fulfilling basic needs?
Yes, I feel guilty of being not able to change the reality around – as I would have liked!
I guess I will have to live with this guilt forever!