By Swathi Anantha:
It was a hot and humid morning on the bustling streets of Bengaluru. I was hiding behind my cousin on the bike so the dust wouldn’t stick to my lips and irritate my eyes. We came to the last intersection before my workplace (the one with the grazing goats and the overflowing tiffin centre). As we were halted by the red light we spoke of mundane topics and the tentative plans for the day until I caught a glimpse of a scene that would haunt me forever.
An emaciated man crossed the street. I was desensitized to these scenes by then but what made me follow him without blinking was a baby girl who he was carrying on his back. She looked like the poster tattered-clothes-wearing Indian child suffering from malnutrition and everything else that comes will the condition of poverty. I have seen many women with their children on the streets before, but this father-daughter combination brought about a series of desperate questions.
For starters, has she tasted the milk from a mother’s bosom? Has she been immunized? Does she have appropriate care and clothing? Will she go to school? Does she have other relatives with whom she can stay so she doesn’t have to be her father’s baggage on these sweltering summer days? How about when she hits puberty? Her father cannot biologically understand the changes she will be facing and she will be confused and scared. I wanted to take this baby girl home. I wanted to feed her, clothe her, and love her. This sounds crazy and many pragmatists laugh. They ask deridingly, “Fine you take this one girl home but what about the others?” “Will you start an orphanage?” “Where will you get the money as you are unemployed and not living in your own home?” As I was letting my pragmatism get the best of me, my eyes welled up and I wanted to jump off the bike and grab the child but the light had turned green and we were already passing the crossroads. Why did I take so long to think about this? As much as we speak for and admire ideals, why do we take so long to commit and contribute to creating a society abundant with compassion through individual actions?
Every time I pass by this intersection I feel pangs of guilt and pain, hoping to see this girl again so I can speak with the father and help them find a sustainable form of life but I was disappointed each time. Being a hero is not waiting for the right moment to shine, it is taking every opportunity you get to do good and making the most of it. It is about the present. It is about action. That day on which I left the interaction without speaking to the father will always be a reminder of how I was not the hero. I did not take my chance to make a difference. Yes, I will feel guilty but we have chances to make up for this everyday through small gestures.
I have dedicated my life to making sure that no girl is on the street bereft of love and care. I want to see all girls given the opportunity to go to school, dream big, and walk with pride and security. Is this possible in my lifetime? Perhaps not, but I will NOT be paralyzed by pragmatism or disillusioned by doubt ever again. Yes, understanding the concept of poverty and analyzing the determinants is important and the World Bank and UN are much needed institutions but without the emotional intelligence and without the individual connection with a face and human soul, ultimately, we are all hypocrites. Good thoughts need to become good actions and only then can ideals become a reality.