Poverty is the biggest curse. We, in our much privileged lives do not realize this heart-wrenching fact as it’s not everyday that we come face to face with it. The claws go deep and when poverty strikes, the ripples do not leave anyone around untouched.
I want to share a incident which one of my friend told me through his own experience. The story of a working peon in an office. He was a sweet, well natured and extremely polite man, probably in his sixties. Everyday, as I walked into my office, he would say a “Namaste madam” with his four fingers touching his forehead. It was awkward for me, a man his age saluting me as if I was coming straight from the Indo-Pak border. I would politely say “Namaste Bhaiyaji” and take my seat, as he would bring me a glass of water. Over the time, we got used to the routine, and the salute was always accompanied with a smile. Small chitchats became a norm, as he would keep the glass of water on my table. He would talk to me with great nostalgia about his family, which stayed in a different town because he could not afford to live with them here in a metro. Cities were expensive after all. I kept wondering why he needed to work at this age in the first place. The answer would be uncomfortable to hear, so I never really asked him the question.
I was not in the office, when I got a call from one of my colleagues telling me that Bhaiyaji’s father had passed away and that he was weeping inconsolably.
The worst part of the tragedy was that he did not even have enough money to buy a ticket so that he could bid adieu to his father for the last time. Everyone in the office decided to pool in whatever they could to help the poor man. It was a nice gesture but what of the loss? What about the curse?
The images would not leave me- a poor old man, tattered slippers, no money, dead father. I decided I needed to see him. I wasn’t sure what or how much help I could offer or what kind words of mine would be good enough for him, but I just knew I had to see him before he left. I called one of my office friends and she thought the same thing. Just as we were about to enter the parking lot of the office, I thought I saw him. There was a small old man, slightly bent with age, holding a grey cloth bag, wearing a grey check shirt and walking slowly towards the exit gate. It was the same shirt he wore to work almost everyday. I honked as hard as I could and the guard came running to the gate. I yelled asking him to stop Bhaiyaji first and the guard ran back in the other direction. We started walking towards him and I was trying hard to gauge his expressions. There weren’t any.
He was right in front of me now and I had called him back right when he was leaving for his father’s funeral. What would I say to him? What would be good enough? I feebly attempted to offer some words of condolence, but it looked vain. We offered him some monetary help and told him he could call us whenever he needed to. He bowed his head in gratitude and left quietly. My gaze followed him as he sauntered unhurriedly towards the exit gate. My eyes fell again on his tattered slippers. The curse.
After hearing the whole story I thought ,It was the curse of poverty. We keep saying that money can’t buy happiness, that it’s not in its very nature to generate joy, but isn’t the lack of money the root cause of all the evil, the biggest of those evils being poverty? We have never heard a really poor man saying that line, have we? Probably, it is indeed a form of pious snobbery to think money can’t buy happiness. All the spiritual banter about money doing horrid things to people and not being able to buy happiness etc-etc, might be intellectually satisfying, but it doesn’t bring respite to a hungry man.
I had a lot of questions today, to God, to society, to myself? How did we end up being so massively imbalanced in terms of what we have? How unfair is this charade, where one man’s weekend movie and dinner is another man’s monthly income? I did not have any answers and it made me feel so helpless, as I haven’t felt in ages. In a country like ours, seeing images of poverty is not exactly a big deal. A maimed child, a blind man, a pregnant teenager, all at my car window at a traffic signal is an ordinary everyday phenomenon. It sounds pathetic, as I read my last line but come to think of it, how many times do we think about it, let alone do something about it? I want solutions, we all do, and the best we can do is do our own bit. Charity can never be the answer. Something more dynamic will be required to change the equations. Perhaps we need something where each one of us is involved, fighting the odds and getting rid of this curse gradually and eventually. Maybe, someday I will find an answer, or someone will find an answer. We will have to keep looking for it though.