Blog Action Day on Poverty (short story)
This post is in honour of Blog Action Day 2008 (15th October 2008) – an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same issue on the same day. The issue is POVERTY. I decided to re-publish an old post as I’ve written a lot on poverty (links at the bottom of this post). I picked this one because it’s a little different. It’s fiction.
She was a real lady. Soft spoken and gentle, with a constant half-smile on her face. Never would she complain or show any distress at the hard work she had to do all day. She accepted this as her fate. She was born into the grinding poverty and could see no way out of it.
From dawn to dusk she would toil, her day beginning at the crack of dawn. There were times when she could barely drag her thin body up from her ragged bedding, but there was no way she could fall back in bed. Who else would fetch the water from the water-pump? Who else would cook breakfast? It was slow and painful work, but she did it without a tear, ignoring her growling stomach and the nausea that rose up to her throat. She couldn’t eat, because the men had to be fed first. So once the water was brought, she would quickly light the choola, make hot sweet chai and then start to make the bajra rotis. They finished as fast as she could make them, wolfed down by the men with onions and pickles. It was only when everyone had eaten that would she sit down to to eat. Today there was only half a roti left, and though she wanted more she had no energy left to make it. So she made do with half, and was grateful for it.
It was time to wash and clean, and she always did it with a song on her lips. Today, she sang the dhoom machalo dhoom song she had heard last night from the raucous television next door. She was happy. She felt she was lucky because she didn’t have to work at a construction site, a fate which her friend next-door had to suffer. She had to stay at home, to look after the baby.
She heard him cry, and rushed to his side. In a jiffy she changed the rags he lay on and filled a freshly rinsed bottle with diluted milk. Then, with the baby on her lap, she leaned her skeletal frame on the door of their hut, and watched the colourful cars flash by. Sometimes if some of the chai was left over, she would sip it slowly, trying to imitate the gurgling sounds of the baby.
This was the best part of her day. She could rest, and look at the people on the streets. She looked with simple curiosity, not resentment. They were all well-dressed and fat to her eyes, but she felt she was lucky too. She had a family, a roof over her head, and one good meal a day. And the baby to play with. She couldn’t ask for more.
That was where I first caught a glimpse of her – her frail body almost invisible against the door. The powerful camera brought her up really close and as I focused on the tired, undernourished face, I felt as if I were intruding into her private space. But I could not drag the camera away from the beauty of that face, a beauty that only innocence can beget. I also could not help approaching her.
Ignoring the stares of the neighbours, I started to speak to her. Her name was Chanda she said, her face lighting up. She touched the silkiness of my sari, and the leather of my purse, and when I asked her, she willingly told me her story. As she spoke about the baby, the tiredness seemed to lift from her eyes. I was glad that she couldn’t fathom the pity in mine.
I gave her a chocolate and she laughed as she ate it. For her, it was the little joys that mattered. The taste of chocolate. The touch of silk. The smile of the baby, or just half a roti. After all, she was just seven years old, having been elevated to being the lady of the house when her mother passed away a few months ago, in childbirth.
(Published in the Times of India as a middle)
Note1: This story was inspired by a real incident, while I was out on the streets of Mumbai. The latter part of the piece is purely my imagination. I never did speak to the girl. The “middle” has been very slightly edited since it was first published. The photo is taken by me and very recently, in Mumbai. It is copyrighted.)
Note2: The aim of Blog Action Day is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion. Give India sent a request about this. The organisation is encouraging as many bloggers as possible to take part in this movement. By asking thousands of different people to give their viewpoints and opinions, Blog Action Day creates an extraordinary lens through which to view these issues. Each blogger brings their own perspective and ideas.
Thank you for reading.
My other posts on poverty: Growth is not leading to development in India
The gap between the rich and the poor in India is not that wide
Instead of making the rich poorer lets make the poor richer
Is poverty declining in India?
The poor in our country simmer with discontent
No humanity towards trafficking victims
Increase in income and life expectancy don’t always go hand in hand
A glimmer of hope for domestic workers
Naxalism – some reasons and some solutions
The root cause of child labour isn’t just poverty
Want to see Mumbai’s underbelly? Take a guided tour!
Trade is better than Aid!
Child workers, are often exploited and often abused
Something seriously wrong with the diet of Indian children
Almost 45,000 kids go missing in India