Time: around 9 a.m. Day: Every week day, Place: Jamal. Description: Perpetual commotion with honking micro vans, bickering conductors, utterly annoying patient drivers and feebly strained impatient passengers like us, throwing frequent glances over our watch, hoping against hope when the driver would jam his foot on the accelerator pedal, and few irascible ones hollering at the drivers. Surely enough amidst the hustle and bustle, popping out here and there, are the …
………inevitable street children.
Times when you are helplessly relying on the other person to get you some place on time, the least thing you want is being beleaguered by one of those imploring, insistent street children. When already driven to the point of insanity waiting for the vehicle to do what it was engineered to do, with the irksome street children falling all over one’s foot, the sole thought that voices and reverberates within my head is ‘hey.. shoo.. shoo… now don’t you even dare touch my foot kiddo.. I am not even here. I don’t exist for you and you don’t exist for me.. get away from here .run…. shoo … shooo.. ’.
The other day, I was confronted with such a situation and as I tried blithely to avoid any interaction with one of such street children, pulling back my leg below the seat as far as possible, I was secretly elated that I was sitting next to the window where the kid couldn’t reach my foot. However a lady, seated beside me wasn’t quite thinking the same line of thought as I was.
To the kid’s infinite plea for a rupee, she’d responded ‘Look kid, don’t beg when you can work with the two hands you have.. I shall give you 10 rupees if you come with me to work at my home.. .’ Most of us have applied the same trick now and then only finding those malingering kids run away on that remark. She must’ve presumed the kid would throw up this wry smile and poof!! Vanish!! To my surprise and I guess to her’s as well, the kid nodded affirmative and sat obediently on the front seat. I thought ‘Now lady, are you really going to take him home and keep your words?’ May be she was also battling the same question as I could feel her draw heavy breaths. The kid sat there for almost 5 minutes when eventually the conductor dragged him out of the van and we sped forward.
What if the conductor hadn’t pulled him out of the van, would she really have taken him with her? Had she really meant what she’d said, she could’ve stopped the conductor. But then again, we are just everyday people; we are not Mother Teresas, are we? We’ve got our own woes and problems to solve. More so, what if instead of putting up a pretense, I had given the boy a rupee. Though its against my principles to give money to such street children since it only encourages them to beg further, I find it hard myself to reconcile the ambivalent thoughts of altruism and rationality. In those times I often recall one of my highly socially inclined teachers telling us, ‘I play my part by giving those kids money, its up to them to make a wise use of it.. ’
But who is going to tell them to be wise, when they are sniffing away dendrite? Do they even see the line separating wrong and right, when rummaging through the garbage? Moreover we are of the general consensus that the street children are incorrigible. Even if the lady had taken the kid with her, would the kid have been at least even grateful to her? Most likely not. After a day or two, in all probability, he would return to his old habit of incessant begging.
It is a well acknowledged fact that the country is loosing its talents to the streets. With the ‘new’ Nepal, one can only wish the street children’s plight is well addressed. Till then, as everyday people, I try and piece together our share of possibilities, ‘should we pretend that we don’t care?..’ or ‘should we give away few bucks?’ or ‘ should we second thoughts like the lady’s and put those in action??’ I am left wondering again for the umpteenth time and can only draw a heavy sigh as I constantly remember the kid’s soiled face with a glimmer of hope of a better future which was crushed the very next moment.
Published in The Kathmandu Post on 14 March 2007. http://kantipuronline.com/kolnews.php?&nid=103545