Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Children of the Earth

I got out of the office cab on the main road and started walking towards home. It was sunny when we left the office. However dark clouds huddled menacingly in the sky now, making it look like a raging black ocean over my head. Soon, big drops of water started spattering the road off the day's dust and grime. Since my Haversack with the laptop has a waterproof cover, I didn't worry too much about the rain. I walked home getting drenched by the minute. That is when I saw them. A lone woman and six children, construction workers at the site, on the way home. The building she was working on was yet to get off the ground. So she had no roof over head. She was also pregnant. From her looks, I placed her to be from Rajasthan. Construction workers in south India, rarely have more then two kids. The children aged from 2 to 7, were huddled together, as the thin plastic that passes off as their roof, was madly flapping in the wind, leaving them at the mercy of the lashing rain. For some reason, her pregnant state made me very angry. There was going to be another kid here soon, huddling with the rest, braving the elements. Children of the Earth.

I walk home with a heavy step. My mother is horrified to see me. She cannot understand why I will not take shelter under a tree or in a shop. I am fed up of telling her that I love to get drenched in the rain now and then. Very soon I am snuggling under the blanket, after a hot meal, Raasnadhi podi liberally applied on my head, reading William Dalrymples “From the Holy Mountain”. I am a sucker for such books.

My mind wanders to the lady and her gaggle of kids. The rain is raging furiously now. I wonder how she will cook with her stove all wet. Finally I get up and decide to take some food for her and her kids. I pack two loaves of bread, some potato curry and some bananas and set off towards the construction site, amidst howls of protest from my mom. She wants me to wait for the rain to abate. But it doesn't look like letting up.

The lady is still there, standing in the rain stoically. I give her the food and tell her in Hindi to give the kids too. There is no expression on her face. She calls out to the kids and they appear, one by one from under the half constructed stairs, looking at me wide eyed. I stand there. I want to see the kids getting the food. She hands out the bread, two slices a piece and some potato curry to each kid. The kids eat mechanically, shivering in the cold. They wipe their hands on the seat of their pants and look at no one in particular. She hands out the bananas. It is also consumed without expression. I decide to leave before my mother calls the Indian Army.

The familiar stab of annoyance resurfaces when I see her swollen belly. I ask her when her baby is due. She says, any day. I ask her why she has so many children. She looks at me puzzled like I have asked her why the sun rises in the East. I tell her to stop having kids after this baby. She looks around for her husband perhaps. Maybe he will answer this girl’s weird questions, her eyes seems to say.

I leave the place resignedly. The rain still rages on. She and the kids are out there. Waiting for it to abate, so that they can go to sleep. Nothing amiss for them. Just another day in the journey called life.

24 comments:

mathew said...

This makes me really sad..The feeling of helplessness...yes you can help one or a few more but there is always someone out there who is still hungry or part of humanity but still outside what we call a life..

I wish ..a simple wish if everyone capable of helping others managed to give a helping hand to just one person wouldnt the world be a better place...

The sad part is that we have become so immune or numb that we now intutively look away from the lost people.

SR said...

Interesting observation of Construction workers from South India having less number of kids. Maybe thats because everyone there has basic common sense. Cannot say whether it is the woman's helplessness or plain ignorance, perhaps both.
On a lighter note: Did they mix up construction and production? What were they thinking?

Anonymous said...

What you did is to be really appreciated. Not many people take the pains to go out of their way to do that.

The resigned expression of the mother n the children which u described makes me feel so sad.
The children being made to suffer for no fault of theirs is the worst part.

Why would the lady be ready to have more children when she knows she cant offer them anything better than whats she is going through at present? Not blaming her, just contemplating....

Reshma

Deepti said...

Its a real sad tale everywhere. We crib about going out in the rain and dirtying our clothes , these people dont even have a small hut to call their own. The number of kids they have is another irony :(
The women are just resigned to their fate.

Hats off to you anju, you went out of your way to give them a meal. I am sure the mother blessed you too!!

SilenceKilled said...

Yesterday only, I went to my landlady's place to pay rent and then she was talking to me about her domestic help. A guy of age 12, I look at him, very cute boy...Then my landlady tells me, that his mother is quite young and he has 3-4 more siblings(even she was not sure how many siblings he has!). I was just listening to her, she was telling me, that when he came, he had just one pair of clothes, and how she got him more dresses, some warm clothes etc etc... But one thing that really disturbed me was he is just 12 yrs, an year elder o my cousin. And we, at home, just pamper my cousin as a princess. And here, this cute, angel-look-alike boy is working, just because, his parents, couldn't afford a decent lifestyle for him, but yes, they could burden him with responsibilities of younger siblings!

moonlight said...

May be the struggle for performing the basic necessities would have left her with no time and ability to think..
That was a great effort from your part...She would have thanked you in her mind..though her face was without any expression...

emmanuel said...

beautiful post :) Appreciate your concern and for what you did. :)

See more from here and here and here.

It's always the 'other' side of Urbanisation. The current economic conditions are again very much against the poor especially in urban areas and there are forecasts that global poverty will move into another dimension in the coming years. :((

Ms Cris said...

That was a nice read. I dont know why I use nice instead of sad or touching. But it was nice, it was real.

Philip said...

Good post - it really set me thinking, especially the reaction of the family. After reading the first few paragraphs, I thought that the faces of the woman and kids faces would light up on seeing somebody bring them food. For me, their disinterested response was a surprise.

You did a great thing, something that I admit I wouldn't have done. Most of the time people don't have a clue what to do to help people like this family. I was thinking, what if they didn't like strangers offering them food? What if they think that this is another random stranger out to do his one good deed for the day so that he feels good about himself?

silverine said...

Mathew: Actually I didn't see helplessness. For her this is life. What is worrying was the fact that unlike the poor of the South, these people haven't even heard of family planning!!

SR: Actually it is because the govts in the south have aggressively campaigned for family planning. Places like UP and Rajasthan are having a population boom coupled with no development. Which is what is leading to incidents like what is happening in Mumbai against north Indians.

Reshma: I don't think they even think of their circumstances. Just live one day at a time.

Deepti: "Resigned to their fate" Thats what it is!

silencekilled: "is parents, couldn't afford a decent lifestyle for him, but yes, they could burden him with responsibilities of younger siblings!"
That spoke volumes!! Which is why child labor laws have to be implemented aggressively!

moonlight: That is exactly what it is. Hardship numbs you. Which is why she was expressionless perhaps.

Emmanuel: Actually these people get paid decently. But they do not know how to manage their finances, with no one to advice them or look out for them!

Philip: These people are paid decently and hence the absence of any reaction when I gave the food. Here in Blr, most people give left overs to construction workers in their vicinity. The ladies will accept it gladly. The men on the other hand drink the money they earn and waste it on getting fancy clothes etc. They can actually make a decent life for themselves, as most of them are attached to contractors who pay them a token fee, even when there is no work. We need a body or NGO to teach them to save. Right now they live one day at a time!

mathew said...

I meant my helplessness...

Neena Padayatty said...

Your gesture must have warmed the cockles their hearts if not their bodies...bravo!

casinaroyale said...

You've done a wonderful job. Keep the good work going on. I can't help thinking how people make their own life miserable by just one act of carelessness. Well, it might be ignorance as well....

But what interests me the most is the helplessness of the kids. This makes me very happy about the childhood I had and makes me feel more responsible.

mekhala said...

It's a sad thing.. But, it also struck me that it could have been impolite to ask her about kids and advising her to stop having more. When a stranger says such things, she could have been astonished and hence did not say anything.. on the other hand, these construction workers are mostly nomadic - meaning they go where the work takes them - so, the children cannot remain enrolled in schools and the parents work for long hours... perhaps, one could teach these kids something (no need to be an NGO)...

Prabhat said...

Great job done. I personally wouldn't have taken such pains.

I am thinking now how to take some steps forward to really help them. Just thinking aloud:
-- Educating the mother and the father about family planning.
-- Educating the children so that they can earn their own bread.

This reminds me of a movie - "Pay It Forward". If all of us start in the same way, and help three people with a promise that they will help three people each. I am sure this fire will spread and the difficult task will be eased a bit.

Anonymous said...

Glad you helped out but....

enagaging in a discussion about FP was probably not high on her list of priorities in the pouring rain, no?

Neale

SP said...

Happy Birthday sweetheart! God bless!!

freespirit said...

What struck me about the incident u narrated is the ignorance of the woman. One would think we've moved on from that stage where ppl were ignorant, but i guess a large population of us are still stuck up there, in the dark ages.

Jeseem said...

sadly it is a matter of education more than poverty. there are many ngo that are working on these. but hardly any in the remote villages where the problem originates.
kerala is a model state for education in these lines. I hope the administration in other states try to replicate the literacy drive

Arun Meethale Chirakkal said...

That's a great gesture from your part. Keep up the good work. May God bless you.

silverine said...

@All: Thank you for your comments! :)

Therivu Naya said...

I was told by an NGO friend of mine that approximately 1200 Children die every year in Bangalore from accidents at construction sites. Most carwl and fall from top floors of unfinished/semi finished buildings.

We wont get to read the news

a) Because they never lived long enough to leave a mark

b) Most news papers have other important news of state interest to cover,latest kitty party in town ,and who is sleeping with whom in tinsel world.

silverine said...

Therivu Naya: Thats heartbreaking stats! :( And what you have pointed is so true! Thanks for dropping by!

Durga said...

What is raasnadi podi?