Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Problems anyone?

We live in a world of plenty. We are spoilt for choices and one can find at least one alternative which fits their need perfectly. And even then, stress is rampant, stress about whether the choice you made was right, stress about lifestyle, our relationships, good schools for our children, bigger cars, larger houses, getting good house-help, about taking that annual vacation to an international destination, about that elusive club membership, about so and so who was in school / college with you earning more than you and going places and you not and the list just goes on. 

Most of us always move about with a cloud above our heads, worry lines etched large on our faces encouraging people to ask us if everything is ok and if they can do anything to help. Our answer to this is “It’s life. Will manage somehow.” And in this manner, we move through life, the years adding up as also the value of our so called sense of self worth and the amassment of possessions leading to even more stress and thus the cycle continues. Will we ever get out of this? Will we ever be able to be happy with such important decisions weighing on our minds? Nothing can ever reduce the criticality of these things in life. Or can it?

Cut to my daily commute to work in a Mumbai local train in the general 1st class coach. It had been crowded as usual and finally there was a mass exodus at both Bandra and Dadar stations leaving the coach relatively empty. At Bandra, this very old lady entered. She was very frail with wrinkled skin covered with the traditional tattoos usually seen on people in rural Maharashtra and dressed in a dark green saree and a checked pallu that had seen better days. She was hobbling along using a short length of bamboo and carrying a small jute bag in her other hand. She was peering out of rheumy eyes and begging from the gents in the compartment. Some of them were giving her coins and she was dropping them in the jute bag with a word of gratitude.

I have always had this soft corner for aged people and it always breaks my heart to see them tottering on a busy roadside, trying to get about alone with no one to help them along. I will never forget this one incident when I was returning back from Johannesburg to Mumbai after a office convention and we had a long stopover at Dubai airport before our flight back to Mumbai. We were whiling our time at one of the many food courts there and happened to notice this elderly Indian couple sitting a table not too far off. The old gentleman was slowly making his way to the counter at one of the food stalls. It was pretty evident that they were travelling alone and were also on a stopover just like us. While all of us felt a little sad at seeing them travelling alone, there was with us this soft-hearted friend of mine (who I had barely known then but is now one of my closest friends) who could just not bear it and actually walked over to them and started chatting with them. They turned out to be a gentle couple who were on their way to their son who was settled in the US or Canada. Their son would be waiting to receive them as soon as they disembarked after the long flight over the Atlantic. We all were very much relieved at what now promised to be a happy ending. 

Coming back to the Mumbai local train and this other old lady, she made her way through the compartment collecting a small number of coins before she reached my side of the coach. By now, we were approaching Lower Parel where I would be getting off. To say my heart was at this moment breaking into a million pieces would still be an understatement. I could not stop myself giving some money to the lady but I did not feel any satisfaction from the act, I just felt broken. So she managed to collect a small sum of money here, mine included. But what help would that be even in the short term? The city we live is not kind to homeless, poor people and even less to those who have the added “stigma” of being elderly. What kind of a life must this old lady living on a day to day basis? Even the basic necessities that we all take for granted so easily are nowhere in sight for people like her. Getting through each day without mishap must be such a struggle. Thinking about the sheer misery that these people face makes our so called problems of plenty pale in significance and seem extremely trivial, materialistic and a sham.

It was with such dismal thoughts crowding my mind and a heart heavy with the sense of helplessness that I got off the train at Lower Parel that day. What can I do to make a difference with not just the sole intent of bringing peace to my own guilty heart of being able to lead a charmed life when there were so many human beings who can’t even live like humans? What can anybody do? Even now, I can still see that old, withered face, murmuring her gratitude and blessings, the eyes mirroring their acceptance and resignation to her state and even then a sense of calm reflecting on it. What can I do? 

1 comment:

Sibesh Sen said...

If people just started feeling the way you do, doing just the way you did in your little way, surely some larger doors would open up for the old and lonely.