Sunday, October 28, 2012

A voice from the street

The best thing in life is knowing that you have a home to go to. No matter how small.

Knowing that there is a place to which you belong. No matter how humble.

Knowing that when you knock, they'll take you in. No questions asked.

I should know. I’ve never had a home of my own. The streets are all I’ve ever known. All the life I’ve seen. Stuff you’d never imagine.

I was born on the streets 10 years ago and I suppose I shall die here.

The days pass quickly enough. There’s work to be done. Things that respectable folk like you would not want to sully your hands doing. I’m a ragpicker. I rummage the bins and trash heaps of this city looking for stuff that can be reused, recycled. Stuff that I sell to scrap dealers for a pittance. The bulk of the money is made by the scrap dealers.

To do that, I trudge across the city, poking my hands into garbage. I used to do it barefoot, until I found these slippers. It never ceases to amaze me, the kind of stuff that you think has outlived its use. The realisation that the next haul might earn me some good cash keeps me going. And of course, I am my own marzi ka maalik. I’m much better off than some other boys and girls who work as househelp or at chai tapris. Oh yes, the days pass easy enough.

It’s the nights that are hard on us. Then we move, sleeping sometimes at railway stations and beneath flyovers, in parks and on footpaths, even empty parking lots. We huddle together at night. There’s safety in numbers, you see. I’ve seen and lived horrors that your worst nightmares don’t know of.

It’s not always easy to find work. But I try. There’ve been times I’ve felt tempted to steal. Hunger can upset the ramshackle moral code within you. But Dada warned me. He said, “You steal a piece of chapatti. They’ll thrash you for it, in more ways than one. They, sitting in their Mercedes and BMWs, could mow us down and kill us in our sleep. They’d still get away. You won’t.”

Dada isn’t really my brother, of course. He’s just another homeless guy who took me under his wing. Without him, I would have been easy prey. Dada himself is a child of the streets, so he knows well the danger I face. His story is really sad. He told me once that he used to get thrashed by the police on a regular basis, no reasons assigned. Unfortunately, that happens to a lot of people, men and women alike. I am glad I have Dada to look after me.

He smoothes the edges of our rough lives. He knows which dargah is distributing biryani on a Friday evening. We eat out of garbage bins too. You have no idea what good food these 5-star hotels dispose of. Of course, to get at it, your have to compete with the street dogs. But that’s okay, we are all citizens of the streets, man and beast, and we have an equal right to its spoils.

Dada also keeps me away from the other, more ugly world that tramps the streets. But he can’t save me from everything. I’ve inhaled glue and Iodex and petrol. It helps numb the stink of my daily work, but Dada assiduously keeps me away from the hard-core stuff. Of course, he doesn’t know that I smoke and drink when someone offers me, and that I’ve gambled too. It’s hard to obey Dada’s orders when I see him doing the very things he warns me not to do.

The worst thing is coping with the rains and the open sewers. Then we scramble for a dry spot, under a shop front. Or a flyover. Dada once bought a plastic sheet for us to sleep under. But the police came and tore it down. A metre costs Rs30. We can’t afford to buy it again and again.

Also, water costs Rs 1 per litre. Think about it, Rs 10 for a bucket of water. And then you crinkle up your nose when you have the misfortune to pass us on the street. If you had to shell out money for your showers, you’d think twice too. We pay Rs 3 to use the toilet but the urinals are free, of course, but you don’t need me to tell you that. Even respectable folk like you pee everywhere. I pity the women though. They have to shell out Rs 3 each time.

We buy the water from watchmen of housing societies and even from slumdwellers, who have illegal connections. When we fall ill, our best option is dying quickly. Even hospitals offering free treatment look at us askance, thoroughly uncomfortable with our lack of a fixed address. That is why even though I am 10 years old, I look no more than 7. The fact that we eat when we can means our bodies are not really well-nourished even at the best of times.

When you go to bed on your soft beds, warmed by your blankets, your stomachs well fed, your heads nestled on your pillows, spare a thought for the hundreds of thousands of us who are homeless. We’ve slipped through the cracks of society, but we are still human. And still children.



This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda



7 comments:

  1. Very true, Vinod. They always make me feel guilty.

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  2. Very nice post. Rarely I see people with such sympathetic view towards the unfortunate ones.

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  3. Thank you, Harshal. Most people, including me, are used to the sights of the unfortunate around us and we barely pay any attention to them. For my part, it is the little children and the babies who are born on the streets and know no other life that prick my cocoon the most.

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  4. It chokes me up. And makes me feel ashamed that I whine and complain at the smallest things when there are bigger problems in this world.

    Submachine

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  5. Thanks, Shubs. The sight of the homeless, especially babies, always does that to me.

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