A child, no older than five years, wandered to a rickshaw next to the one I was in at a red light during the afternoon. He motioned khaana khaeyga, but was turned away, and he started walking away, looking at something I could not see from my limited viewing area. Two steps later he stopped, stared, took instructions, looked in my direction, glanced back at his instructor and then walked towards my rickshaw.
The usual anger arose, the usual questions rose, and they quickly subsided when the usual answers arose. Looking over him, I saw his instructors: three women dressed in rags and clasping utensils on the pavement were laughing and talking. He belonged to one of them. It is difficult to keep this anger and hurt going. The same emotions have been felt by most others. What does one tell the mother? Will the son understand? A good number of children born on the street prefer to stay there for the freedom it gives them. Ajay, who I met in January, ran away from the children's home he was put in temporarily. He was due to leave for Kashmir soon, to meet parents he hadn't met for a long time. The representative of the home who had corresponded with me throughout the process later said over a cup of tea that once children tasted this particular freedom, this freedom from ties of any sort, where they led a gray life, they rarely gave it up.
Gray. That bit where black and white meet and confuses everybody about where it starts and ends. The streets are our most visible definition of a gray life. Little if anything is on paper. Statistics about them begin with the words 'approximately' or 'estimates say'. I used to feel sorry once that lives were led this way, and was livid at the indifference. But the Indians I know and whose company I travel in in India have preferred living lives in definite colours, knowing how close they are to this gray zone, which too is definite, but neither here nor there. Some fear it for it means losing themselves, while others love it for they can flit between life and death like ghosts with no allegiance to either.