Monday, May 16, 2005

Mithun

I had a turbulent weekend. Started off quite well, actually, when I laughed to myself at the headline in the local newspaper which proclaimed that Pune's software export had finally crossed the elusive one billion US Dollar mark (they thought they had crossed that mark last year but that figure was wrong, though they were very close, apparently). I mainly laughed at the human obsession with the decimal system. One Billion US Dollars. One hundred runs. Twenty years old. Thirty years old. Decade. Century. Millenium. Aren't all these artificial boundaries? Why should a hundred runs be a whole lot more important than ninety nine? What was so special about the year 2000? For all we know, we may be living in year 1992 right now (after all, I don't think we have any documentation of early calendars, and even if we did, how do we know we are not off by a few weeks since time measurement got accurate and standardized fairly recently). I could go on, but that should be for some other time.

Still, I was impressed. Pune's software industry has faced many challenges, and even though the figure is based on the decimal system, a billion US Dollars is a lot of money. The thought was soon forgotten and I went on with my life. I needed to withdraw some money, so I rode my motorbike to the bank. It was extremely hot, and I was a little irritable. Outside the ATM I encountered a bearded, slightly bent man, obviously very poor who offered to wipe my motorbike clean for a Rupee. A Rupee, my friends, is nothing these days. My dog would be unhappy with a Rupee as allowance. Still, I refused the offer, mainly because I have a humongous ego and I don't like being forced into anything. I would even go so far as saying that I was slightly rude to the guy, who quickly backed off after persuading the matter for a while. I withdrew the money, felt guilty about being so churlish, and made eye contact with the guy as I came out of the ATM centre. The guy asked me for 50 Paise! I dipped into my pocket, came up with a 50 Paise coin, and another of five Rupees. I gave him the 50 Paise coin, and could see the obvious disappointment in his eyes when I put the other coin back in my pocket. But the man had some selft respect, and he thanked me and left. While I drove back I felt a little smaller. I spend thirty Rupees for a coffee every morning, but I couldn't bring myself to give the guy more money. Well done, Anurag, very well done! I shared the incident with my wife when I reached home, and she told me I should have given him more. She asked me whether we could go back and give him some money. I love the girl. So we drove back to the bank, this time in the car. The guy was still there, he approached the car but was obviously hesitant when he saw me. I asked him whether he could clean the car and he agreed immediately. I went and bought a bubble gum, came back and found the guy stuggling with dirt stains on the windshield. I told him to leave it, and my wife gave him ten Rupees. He was obviously very happy, and promised me he'd clean the car later. "Next time, sir", he said with a huge grin, visible from behind his dusty beard.

I went home and had an afternoon nap. Upon waking up, I went for a walk with my wife in the fields behind the apartment complex where we live. There I saw Mithun, after a long time. So long that I had forgotten about him. Mithun is a crippled guy who lives in Koregaon Park. He can't walk, so he drags himself everywhere with his hands, not much unlike a big primate. He is roughly my age, and has a beard which he gets shaved once a year. I know his name because I asked him once, when I stopped to give him some food on a cold, wet monsoon night while he quietly sat under one of the numerous banyan trees on South Main road.

I asked Mithun how he was doing, he smiled, I smiled back and we kept walking. We roamed around there for a while, saw a water tanker come to fill water (supplied by the farm there) and asked the tanker guy whether we could climb the truck to which he agreed. Mithun saw us do that and laughed. We smiled back at him. Then we got off the truck and came back home. On the way back we encountered an old lady (she must have been close to sixty years old) struggling with a huge gunny bag filled with disposed cardboard boxes (for fire, I assumed). My wife stopped to help her put the load on her head while I wondered whether or not others would agree with me that no person should have to work so hard at her age.

Once at home, I got busy with some work when my wife told me that Mithun was still in the fields and was moving very slowly, almost too slowly. We decided to give him something to eat. I filled a bottle with milk, and along with a packet of Parle G biscuits and a mango, I put that in an old leather bag which we no longer used. I walked to the field where Mithun sat quietly. I gave him the food and twenty Rupees, which he did not thank me for. Maybe he was too embarassed. Maybe nobody ever talks to him and he lacks these so called social graces. I didn't care any which way. I asked him whether he had any family (he doesn't), whether he could walk with crutches (he can't), whether somebody made sure that he didn't go hungry (he said something which I couldn't decipher, but I don't think he has a guardian angel). Then I asked him something which I had been meaning to ask him since that night three years ago when I gave him food and asked his name, but which I had never asked him so far as that would mean raising his hopes, and I didn't want to get into a situation which I couldn't live upto. I asked him whether he would be able to move around if I got him some sort of a cart, the kind used by many beggars. He said yes, but he was no longer looking at me. I don't know why. Maybe he doesn't like being pitied. Maybe hope makes him sad. After all, it is not easy to have a dream when you have no means to fulfil it. I asked him how old he was and he displayed four fingers. I asked him again and got the same response. I don't know. Maybe he is forty, maybe twenty four. It doesn't matter. Age is a privilege of the well fed and well looked after. For Mithun, days are long, weeks longer. I have decided to find out about the means of locomotion for him.

Came home feeling rotten. Very rotten. I finally understood why Chandra Babu Naidu lost. Wealth is being created in our country for the IT sector, but it is not helping too many other people. There are still people starving. On the same day that I read about Pune's software exports crossing that staggering mark, I met three people of very limited means. Of them, I have seen one in the same state for the last three years. If the government made better roads, with pavements, Mithun would not risk his limb and life trying not to live his entire life in one spot.

Some people have told me that to help beggars is to encourage them. Probably a true statement, but inhuman, I feel. What hope does Mithun have to earn a living when perfectly healty and educated people can't find jobs? Can you live hand to mouth on the streets, without shelter, water or food? I once saw a beggar drink from a sewer. I wouldn't think twice before giving a person like that some money to buy water, maybe a wada pao.

I feel extremely lucky for having married a sensitive person who is generous, humane and understanding. I haven't seen such unconditional concern for the well being of the needy in too many people lately.

I don't think I am making too much sense here. I certainly have no point to drive home. I just wanted to let others know that a billion US Dollars of export is all very well, but Mithun still goes hungry very regularly and I have no idea of what could be done for him or thousands like him.

23 Comments:

At 12:13 PM, Anonymous Toe Knee said...

Totally totally agree with you. Keep up the good work.

 
At 1:52 PM, Blogger Satya said...

well you certainly do make sense anurag... the things you write are the things that i regularly confront too... and the way i behave is not diffrent frm how u handled it ..i.e. i tell them to buzz off .... sounds heartless but i dont wanna give em money to have them smoke pot at night off that money,thats my point ... sometimes i really don't know what someone shld do abt so many beggars and crippled folks.. but the sheer fact that you went back and did something .. even small talked .. make you a better man ...bravo !!

 
At 2:58 PM, Blogger NerdNoir said...

Unfortunately, this happens in many industrialized countries. I also live in the city in America, and I'm sometimes enountered by homeless or people asking for change, some are even dressed better than I am. I'm never rude to any one, sometimes I give money, but sometimes I say I don't have anything, and because I work part-time right now, I'm not completly lying to them.

These days you can't tell anymore, some are really do need a break, some want drug money, some are just plain scam artists (the better dressed ones) who usually come up with a story, such as they lost their wallet, and all they need is a bus token or a change for a transpass, or they're a few bucks short for a bus ticket. One guy tried to sell me his credit card because he said needed the money to get home.

 
At 1:58 AM, Blogger Arun said...

I would recommend the book "Everybody Loves a Good Drought" by P.Sainath(even I haven't read it fully) on the living conditions in the poorest districts in our country. It is a collection of his articles in The Hindu about the drought prone areas in our country.

Join the club of people who are totally clueless about what to do to help people like Mithun.. Sigh! :-(

 
At 4:38 AM, Blogger Manish Bhatt said...

Oh, you have driven the point home alright. I'm touched, and deeply so. If you figure something out for Mithun and if I can contribute in some way, I'd be happy to be of assistance. I also consider myself privileged, both in terms of relationship as well as comforts of life. But every once in a while, I'm troubled by similar issues, but can't figure out what to do about them. There has to be a way.

 
At 5:31 AM, Blogger Senthil said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5:34 AM, Blogger Senthil said...

It's extremely rare to see someone goes who goes out of his/her way to help these fellows. Apart from you, I've seen only Kakkar do similar stuff. Such enthusiasm and energy is rather rare, so don't lose it.

Yep, it is a depressing perspective. Everything seems so pointless when seen from the point of view of how their lives will be affected. As Sally says, "Where will it all end?"

 
At 8:28 AM, Blogger B.C. said...

Uou make more sense then Man climbing moon. I AGREE!! Moist eyes don't feed the hungry, nor do they cure the deceased. All ables should spend some percentage of their income and time for help. What use is the wealth and soaring figures if they can't help someone? Gotta die anyways no?

 
At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Elf said...

I actually typed out a whole coment and blogger didn't publish..((

I was saying that a year back outside my coll. my friends and I spotted a bleeding beggar women.
We decided to go buy some food and medicines for her. by the time we returned she had disapeared! we had to literally hunt for other begars to distribute the items

 
At 10:25 AM, Blogger Elf said...

I don't beleive that giving them money solves the prblem.

i quite think that capitalism ( thought I endorse it; which might be diff if I were on the roads) is somewhere the problem for this disparity.

In India , its most probably corruption.

 
At 3:08 AM, Blogger Dilip D'Souza said...

Anurag, I'll say this much: there should be more people like you and your wife, people willing to consider everybody out there as other human beings. Pay no attention to any naysayers, just be the way you are.

 
At 5:14 PM, Blogger k.r.a.k.t.i.k said...

Anurag, you're pretty lucky to be able to muse about these things and make a difference, however small it might be... for eg., I'm in the US now, and even though I feel strongly about it, there's not much more I can do right now than say join a developmental organisation (which I have) or read/write on this (which I do).

Still, as Dilip says, you must definitely continue, for what you're doing is definitely a huge step forward for problems which most are apathetic toward... you're thinking about it, and that's the biggest step fwd!

 
At 11:54 PM, Blogger Anirudh Karnick said...

Nice post. It made me think. May I send it to a few of my friends and acquantainces? I will attribute it to you, of course.

 
At 4:24 AM, Blogger Anurag said...

Wow! This post got more response than I thought I would. Thanks everyone, for the kind words.

Anirudh: No problems. Feel free to circulate it.

 
At 8:14 PM, Anonymous Satish Talim said...

Good post.

 
At 9:10 PM, Blogger couchpotato said...

Have been seeing your name practically everywhere; decided to give you a visit, finally.

Yeah, it's true... The growth of a place is calculated purely on the growth of a select few; do agree it's truly unfair. Your post reminded me of something I'd been thinking the last couple of days, as well. The way the media seems to hype the glitterati, who do not even account to a percent of the country's population, I feel, is totally absurd.

And, do keep up the good work. Guess there aren't many who are sensitive to such issues.

 
At 1:19 AM, Blogger Jugular Bean said...

Socialism is the only way. DAMN CAPATALISTIC BASTARDS!!!!!

 
At 4:59 AM, Blogger jaygee said...

superb! its like there is hope for people like mithun ....

 
At 9:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best way to help out someone like Mithun is to find out in your city the ngo's that work with the disabled and poor. often they have put in place some forms of livlihoods work for people such as Mithun and really do work on making their lives better..it may very well happen that Mithun himself may not want to deal with such drastic change, but no harm in trying. Please do not discard this idea because really ngo's are the only groups with the know how and really are the only ones actively involved in cleaning up the shit left by our government. while i am saying this, also remember that when you see a child (street child or child working in some form of labour, especially those poor kids below 14 who are made to toil in rich neigbours, possibly a techies, house)in distress call 1098 which is a toll free 24 hour service run by Childline India.
ciao ciao

 
At 9:50 PM, Anonymous diippi said...

Hey...I just found your blog..
liked it.. you write with your heart...keep up the good work..

 
At 3:32 PM, Blogger sandeep said...

next time i see sum1 who is not able to make both ends meet i'm gonna make sure he gets some money.. n why dont we all do that.. instead of jus typin our views down here n then doin the same thing we are used to doin(ignoring them)... let's start makin the difference

 
At 4:44 AM, Anonymous Saurabh said...

I can sense this post being translated, to near perfection, from whats in your heart. You should contact a NGO regarding Mithun. Keep blogging, you may inspire the Anurags in all of us.

 
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