Surrounded by the din of the marketplace, I began my ritual of reading the newspaper. I had on me merely Rs. 10 for purchasing the two newspapers which carried news of the health camp we conducted yesterday. As I was scanning the pages, my daughter asked me for some money. She must have read the questioning look in my eyes for she promptly said that she wanted to give some money to a poor lady. The poor lady in question was a destitute who had occupied a certain corner of the market for so long that one could not imagine the market without her.
My six year old daughter had a special corner of concern for this lady, for even in the past she has asked me to give that lady some money. I fished out two Rs. 2 coins from my pocket, hesitated for a moment, bemoaning the fact that I did not have a Re. 1 coin and gave one of the 2 rupee coins to my daughter. She instantly disappeared with the coin and I burrowed myself in the newspaper. I had hardly moved a paragraph that my daughter appeared, tugged at me and insisted that I come and take a look at the old lady. I knew the haggard state of the old lady so I tried to avoid the encounter. Yet my daughter persisted and I gave in. The old lady was dozing, possibly due to the effect of liquor. It was a little disappointing for Harshal that the old lady had not seen her doing the act of charity and understandably it deprived Harshal of some satisfaction.
We ran a stall for handmade aromatic soaps made of natural extracts, and as we headed back to this, the following conversation took place.
Harshal: Papa why was the old lady lying like that?
Me: I don’t know baby, most probably she was sleeping.
Harshal (giggling to herself): Is this the place to sleep?
Me: But Harshal , she does not have a home.
Harshal (a bit concerned this time): Does she have food to eat?
Me (haltingly): Most probably no.
Harshal: Papa are you not someone who helps the poor?
Me (at this stage a mixture of emotions – pride, guilt, feeling small and yet concerned): Yes Harshal, but there are too many poor in the world, I cannot help all of them.
Harshal (after some silence): You had ten rupees with you didn’t you?
Me: Yes, I did! Harshi
Harshal (almost seizing my words): So why did you not give it to the old lady. At least she could eat something for today.
I did not reply to her after that. We kept walking silently amidst the humdrum. For a while all the noise faded in my mind as it retraced its steps back to see the prostrate figure of the old lady. Where will she spend her night? What does she look forward to for the next day? What could I have done for her? What can I do for all these poor? I am already trying, but is this enough?
– by Anurag Jain
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Anurag and I go back a long way. Some 18 odd years. We first met on the playground in his neighbourhood. He was a fierce competitor and the best leg-spin bowler I have faced. After high-school, we moved on with our lives, each pursuing an engineering degree in different universities. Until we got together again last year. He had mellowed and that somehow made his fierce desire to get things done more visible. Both he and Shikha (who he met during his engineering days and later married) left their jobs to take-up the social cause of enabling the urban poor, through the vehicle of NEEV (New Education and Environment Visions).
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