Friday, February 13, 2009


I was reading in the Yahoo news the reaction of boys who live in the slums to The Slum dog Millionaire.

‘After watching Slum dog Millionaire with intense concentration, barely moving from his cross-legged position on the floor, 12-year-old Vijay Kumar, a rag picker around Old Delhi railway station, grinned: "I really enjoyed it. It shows my life, the way children like me eat and sleep together, how we live”’

‘Asked if the film was 'true', they exclaimed 'yes!’ That's what slums are like, that's how the police harass us, that's how some boys get into crime or glue-sniffing, that's how middlemen approach us and ask us to entice children to be sold to gangs, that's how we share our food and help one another’

I’ve lived in Mumbai for almost six years. I still go to that big city on and off. Yet, if you ask me about the ‘street urchins’, I’ll hardly be able to tell you anything about them. After reading this bit of news I made an effort. A serious one to recall some contact or conversation I had with them. A couple of instances came to my mind but looking back at those made me feel ‘not good’. Did it take a Britisher(I have not yet seen the movie) to open my eyes to that terrible reality for which, I too, as a citizen, is responsible, which, I too could have seen if I had opened my eyes wide enough?

A brief conversation I had with a boy was way back in 1999. The cab in which I was travelling had stopped at the traffic signal at Peddar Road. I saw the cover of a thick book pressed against the window of the cab, which I rolled down ‘cos I wanted to buy the book. The boy – about 10 or twelve- was repeating mechanically “STAREPORT, SO RUPIYA (Star Report, 100 Rupees). Hundred rupees was dirt cheap for a book on Kenneth Star’s investigation into Clinton’s sexapades, which was released in the US just the previous day, and I opened my purse. The boy’s eyes lighted up. But my friend who was travelling with me in the cab asked me not to buy it. Though she spoke in Malayalam, the boy got a clue that she was dissuading me from buying. ‘Stareprt, so Rupiya’ he raised his voice. There was plea in it. ”Madam. Hundred rupees only, madam, hundred Rupees only” he begged. “Don’t buy it Molly. It’ll be sleazy. Your children will read it if you take it home”. I hesitated. By then the boy was pleading in both English and Hindi. The signal changed and the car moved with the boy running along with the car repeating “hundred rupee only madam, only hundred rupee”. I looked straight ‘cos I couldn’t buy it even in I had wanted to. The taxi had gathered speed and I had to fish out money from the wallet in the hand bag. So I turned deaf and blind and sat back as though the boy did not exist.

There was an almost identical experience at a signal at Bandra. This time, he had a bunch of beautiful fresh roses for a mere Rs. 15. I had opened my handbag to look for the wallet when the same friend told me that the flowers are stolen from the graveyard. Something about that put me off and I repeated my performance at the Peddar Road signal. This time too, as the taxi gathered speed, I turned deaf and blind and sat back as though the boy did not exist.

I do not know how I’ll explain my self to the Almighty when the day of reckoning comes.

These are but a couple of incidents, and they point to an unpleasant truth that I am living in an oasis of plenty amidst a wasteland of hunger and want. Don’t the oases have a tradition of keeping their resources open for the hungry and thirsty and shelterless travellers?

Disturbing questions which I push aside - for I want to continue to violate the tradition of sharing the oasis with the less fortunate travellers of the desert!

But these seizures of guilt return over and over again – only to be to be calmed and controlled by the drugs of convenient theories and pragmatic philosophies.


  1. But these seizures of guilt return over and over again – only to be to be calmed and controlled by the drugs of convenient theories and pragmatic philosophies.

    How true.

  2. Been there,done that..But also,with the little experience I have had with the kids (I used to work in a NGO which helped them study)even that money doesnt go to them.They hardly get a share of it.Next time,take a candy bar or some kind of food item.
    Thats the only salvable grace for them.
    Atleast you remembered enough to tell the tale.Dont we all mostly conveniently forget and hide in our complacence?

  3. Recently I was in Mumbai and felt the same guilt.In Mumbai the rich and the poor live so close. Walking past the slums to my posh Hotel with Airport like security at the entrance I realsied how big is the difference in value of life between rich and poor.

  4. I felt the same guilt while in Mumbai recently. There the rich and the poor live so close.Walking past the filthy slums to reach the entrance of my filthy-posh Hotel where Airport like security awaited me I realised the difference in value of life between rich and poor.
    But soon I forgot that feeling.

  5. I too feel the same guilt. Doing what I can for them by volunteering for an NGO.

  6. A gold jeweller of Ernakulam once went to a children's orphanage to give a grand noon meal to the inmates on account of his mother's death anniversary. After arranging things with the Management, he was about to drive off from the courtyard when 2 boys of the Home approached him. They asked him if it was a noon meal that he had come to arrange. He said 'yes' to find the boys' faces falling.
    Filled with misgivings, he asked why they looked upset. The boys said, "it is sadya here always. It is bloody boring everyday. Paayasam, Paayasam three times a day; or it is sweets. They don't allow non-vegetarian because this a Hindu place. Why do people always arrange only Sadya...."


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