Thursday, November 29, 2007


This is one post that has been languishing in the drafts for a looong time. Something that hit me in the face back home, Something that left a feeling of utter helplessness..Feelings that had, in hindsight, touched a raw nerve. A sore that I mistakenly felt had healed in the rush to make a life.

Ever since the travel bug hit me, the day I first grabbed that pricely copy of outlook traveller at the Aluva railway station, "travel" has been the operative word in my life. Travels that have created some wonderful memories, Nature in all its splendour, People vibrant. Faces that made sparkling conversation. Faces that had wizened from years of toil, toil that was possibly the only story of their lives.

It was the sight of one such old lady, on a desolate railway platform, that caused my thinking to go haywire. A hunched, greyed bag of bones who wouldn't have merited a second glance on a quicker day. Not a beggar, yet. With nothing much else to do, out of equal measures of curiosity, revulsion and sympathy, I stared at her a few times. And sensing a chink in my armour, she approached me - arms stretched. I tossed a coin reluctantly. She did not go away. Arms still stretched, emotionless, blank face.I tossed in a currency note and she quickly left. I felt as though I had been taken for a ride. Why in the world would anyone in their right mind, give alms to anyone? Let alone to a lady who was borderline between a beggar and a cheat. I felt bad.

I boarded the train later and after sometime was ruminating on this again. But from an entirely different perspective. Something that came on after observing an apparently happy elderly family in the same coach.

I began wondering. Did she have a family? Of course yes. Where were they then? How must her life with the family have been? What would have prompted her children to abandon her? Was it that her family was so poor, that one less mouth to feed, made a whole lot of difference to them? These were questions that began to pop up regularly every time I saw someone who looked destitute.

What I saw shook me up. India, where we pride ourselves on our family values, seems to be filled with people like her. And I am not even considering the people who were born poor, or as the government likes to call "under the poverty line". The old waiter at the Sangeetha in Adyar, who has to bear the blunt of high-flying IT "professionals" and still manage to smile. No tip anyways. The security guard at many of the apartments, making do with a single pair of uniforms. Spending sleepless nights guarding the Indian upper middle class, which cares only about development and India shining.

Soon it became apparent that it was not just the poor elderly who suffered. As India moves from its villages to towns and cities, it leaves behind an India that has been sucked dry by the current generation. Working mostly as clerks for the whole of their lives, people who squirreled away whatever savings they had to the family. Now well off, with money sent in regularly, long distance telephone calls and for the lucky few, a video conference on yahoo. But yet I am sure most of them have quite a few regrets. Maybe that movie they missed. A festival that came and went without the least bit of self-indulgence. That pair of glasses which needed to be changed. The wrist watch that needed to be changed, not repaired.

I do agree everyone needs to venture out to seek their lives. But then are we so busy making a living that we can't manage to find that odd day or two for the elderly in our lives? Better still make a life that involves them more than the annual visits? Not even stopping to wait for the old lady to cross the road? I really don't know. It really feels as though an old unwritten cycle of life is being broken today. Take a visit to an old age home to realise what I am talking about. For people in Chennai, Vishranthi on the ECR is an old age home that is doing a decent job. Look it up sometime. There are a lot more who can use all the help they can get.

And why this post, a whole 3 months after I left India? Well, what I see here looks like a natural extension for India in the next 50 years. Elderly, who are fierecely independent. Going about their routine. But still look as though they are on a long wait. A wait for someone ...... something rather?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mango mood again

Somethings jump up from the store shelves and bring some great memories...On one such routine visit to the Desi grocery store, hidden away was this packet of 50 pieces of absolute bliss - MangoBite..mmmmmm