Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Ajay's smile

I meet this guy named Ajay outside a restaurant (Pizzeria) a few days ago. Actually, he comes up to a friend and me and rubs his tummy. He's unkempt, sleeps on the streets, and for a minute I actually wonder whether he's really hungry or he's faking it. This is before he says a word. It's something I go through everyday in Mumbai. See, judge, dismiss, doubt, change mind, ask for opinion, walk away from problem. It happens a lot when you're confronted with poverty. Well, with me, anyway.

But on the day - I think it was Friday - I get him a pack of biscuits, and receive in return a mile-wide smile not seen since...I don't remember when, actually. He parks himself on the pavement, and meticulously cuts open the pack, as if it was mealtime. You could imagine him sitting at a dinner table somewhere, with his parents going, "Sit straight, and what about your prayers?"

I interrupt his mealtime, and we get talking. He says he's from Jammu, and the word itself is so far away, it does not register for a minute. I imagine I'd look pretty stupid to anyone else, but with this kid, I can return a whole minute later and ask, "you mean Jammu from Jammu and Kashmir?!" In between, I had fooled myself into thinking it was the name of a slum somewhere in Bombay. He says yes and moves his index finger over the layer of dust on my car.

He has run away from home, with an older distant cousin, who becomes more distant when things do not go well in Bombay. He abandons Ajay, the boy in front of me right now. Ajay first sleeps at Mumbai Central station, but the cops harrass him. So he moves to Churchgate Station, where "no one troubles me". His parents have no idea of his wherabouts for the last six months. I leave him, promising to be back the next day.

I return, but he is not there. The keeper of the nearby store briefly deflates my faith when he says the people who hang around here, asking for food, have all been here for long, and that they spin convincing yarns. But I recover quickly when I remember Ajay's smile. It was quite real. It's nearly been a week but I remember it clearly. A genuine smile always stands out.


Anonymous said...

Childline is an organisation that works with street kids in bombay. Children anywhere can call 1098 and speak to them. One can alternatively call 23881098/23871098 and talk to them about a child you may be concerned about.

Rahul Bhatia said...

Thank you for this. Hopefully I'll catch him there today.

Anonymous said...

both of you should stop being such saps!! if these kids don't bring in there daily "wages" - they will be hammered by the dons that generally govern the area! you can't do anything to help - it's just your guilt that makes you feel sorry for them - if you really care so much -why not adopt them - and give them a real shot at life!!

Rahul Bhatia said...

Guilt? Wow. Magnificent generalisation. Anyway, Ajay was found. He's in councilling now. He's going home soon because he wants to go home.

ps. There was no don involved.

Dilip D'Souza said...


As far as I'm concerned, please carry right on being a sap, as you did with this kid. The world needs more saps. Pay no attention to the smug dudes who tell you otherwise. Their worldliness is limited to their computer monitors. If that.

Anonymous said...

Yeah keep up what you're doing - and don't forget to drive your beige prius and eat your veggies - oh and we musn't forget the that, now that we did our good deed for the day - we can guiltlessly drive to work instead of public transport and aid and abet in the murdering of our planet - but it's ok - cause we tossed that kid a few crumbs yesterday.

All this help is just simply a way for you to overcome the guilt that you feel for being overprivilaged! yes its true - there is only one form of true charity - and that is to dedicate your life to others - a la Mother Teresa... for everyone else - it's just an easy way to make up for the selfish materialistic life they lead.
See the trouble is that people complain about every facet of life - even the wealthy always have something to crib about - so when they see someone less fortunate its releif that they feel, that at least, they have what they do have - and then its remorse for the victim - so what do they do? they throw a few crumbs / paisa at the poor victim and continue on with life. And as they walk away - they feel like their contribution really made a difference!!
I'm sorry that i'm turning this apparent act of concern and generosity into a mutilated act of self gratification - but open your eyes my friend to the brutal world we live in!! Everyone knows of the poverty and sufferring that we are surrounded by - but are you truly ready to make a difference? Are you willing to give up your creature comforts and really get your hands dirty?
Ask yourself this - why didn't you take Ajay home the first day you met him? You knew he really had no place to go. You couldv'e taken him home, given him a full meal, a nice bed and helped him get back to Jammu - but you tossed him a crumb instead....
Roll your sleeves up my friend the shit's much deeper than you think

Anonymous said...
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Rahul Bhatia said...

Fair point. Tossing a few coins someone's way does not make a great difference. But when aid does come, and if it can help, why question motives? Your argument is redundant. What does my guilt - entirely your assumption - have to do with anything? And as for the first blogger you called a sap, I think the person needs an apology. I happen to know this person, and can vouch for the fact that guilt is the very last thing on this person's mind when it comes to helping others.

I'm sorry you feel this way, mate. If you'd like to talk in private, my email address is: