You know that sick, swooping feeling in your stomach when you feel afraid, frightened or you’re excited for something? Well, I’ve got something similar in my stomach right now. Except it’s not a positive feeling, it’s a negative one. Something akin to regret, but not that since I have a policy of ‘No Regrets’ in my life.
So here’s the tale, my brother and I were on our way to our Sector’s Annual Easter Celebration mass and as I walked by, a lady who looked like she was in her mid-thirties along with her daughter [I assume], who seemed about nine or ten stopped me and said, “Sister, please.” By that time I had already apologized and had begun walking ahead and then she spoke again, “One packet of biscuits,” and I gave her an apologetic smile and walked ahead.
This happened very close to my building and as we walked ahead my brother asked me, “What did she say?” and I replied with “Nothing.” She had muttered her request in broken Hindi and I did turn back when I made the turn and she was still standing there.
The thing is, I feel guilty. i had about seven rupees in my pocket then, all in change. I rarely carry money and the only reason I stopped to listen for the two seconds I did was because I thought she was asking for the time. They didn’t look like beggars, they seemed like they belonged to a lower class, kinda poverty stricken but okay. That’s a majority of India’s population and quite a large percentage of Mumbai’s populus as well.
As I listened to the drab and boring sermon of the mass, my mind kept wandering, it kept me wondering if I could have gotten some glucose biscuits for the lady and her child, if I could have done something and I kept feeling guilty. But here’s the thing, I know for a fact that several gang rings of beggars use this technique to rob and maim and get other kids and all into robbery. She may have been sincere in her request, but I was always taught to be pragmatic, especially when with a child [my brother] rather than sympathetic.
Another instance comes to mind, when I was younger, around ten or eleven, we were travelling back home by an auto rickshaw late at night. I think we were returning from a party and as we zoomed by, I saw several groups of beggars retiring for the night on the footpaths. And I remember it was cold, winter had begun and I remember seeing them and feeling bad for them and wondering how they spent the night in the cold.
One particular image of a beggar child who was standing on the divider and begging has still stuck with me. I wondered back then if the child went to school, had enough to eat or not and had to sleep in the cold. I’m older and wiser now, and yet I still feel bad about the living conditions of some of the people I see around my life.
Poverty is a constant sight in a city. You’d have to be blind and deaf to escape from the pleas of the beggars who seem to be everywhere and who constantly make you feel guilty about good things that you have and the privileges you enjoy.
At this time, when my stomach still has swooping sensation of guilt [I walked back the same way after mass, clutching the seven rupees hoping to see the lady and give her the money] I remember one of the most profound quotes of one of my favorite novels –
“I think that if I ever have kids, and they are upset, I won’t tell them that people are starving in China or anything like that because it wouldn’t change the fact that they were upset. And even if somebody else has it much worse, that doesn’t really change the fact that you have what you have.”
― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Life is full of choices, and some are tough and have horrible repercussions. But we all have to make them everyday. choices affect our lives, they’re constant.
I think the swooping sensation has lessened.
[P.S – I know I kinda cheated yesterday with just a quote as my post, but that is one of my favorite quotes from my favorite novel. It speaks to me, and has always helped me keep things in perspective].