Her grandson hung loosely from her hip. Lacking the energy to steady his head lolling from side to side. He was badly in need of food.
Yet as she implored me for some money I knew she had not been doing this for long. For the hundreds of beggars I pass every day have a permanent look carved onto their faces. A look to evoke pity. But her smile is warm. The shine in her eyes real.
Where are u from ?
Sholapur, she said. There were no rains and the fields were dry. No one was hiring labour, and there was no food or water. 20 of her community walked, hitched rides on top of trains and buses to come to Mumbai.
To beg for food, shelter and water. This is after all the city of dreams.
Where do u live ?
Wherever we find the space.
Which means the streets, the shelters under the highways. The narrow spaces on the dividers between the roads. Real Estate is at a premium here, even to put down your head to sleep on the streets
Her grandaughter walked upto me. Hand stretched out to beg, but her heart not in it. Not yet. anyway. It had not yet become a profession. She smiled the most stunning smile, eyes still sparkling with hope and optimism. All of sixteen.
We will go back soon to sholapur, she said to my question.
When the rains come. When the crops grow. When there is food and shelter.
That I knew, and she knew, would be not till the next monsoons a year from now. Would this community exist together for a year ? Would the warmth in her eyes, and the sparkle in her grandaughter’s eyes survive that long ?
Or would this family be indistinguishable from the permanently etched and grimaced faces of al the others.
My daughter’s school bus arrived and she stepped out laughing. The old lady laughed too. She asked for her name and blessed her. I gave her some money and she bent to touch my feet. I said no. In the same square mile we existed on different planets. But at this moment I wanted to be her equal. Equal in their hope. Equal in their dignity. Praying that somehow they may be able to survive the onslaught of the city.
I drove home, as Suresh, my driver laughed.
You really got taken in didn’t you, sir. Have u not been watching TV ? There has been so much rain in Sholapur that their are floods everywhere !
He is wrong. He must be wrong.