Sunday, 22 March 2020

The collaterals of Corona, the flower sellers, the rag pickers ...

FLOWER SELLERS

The woman I buy flowers from daily was silent today. None of her usual smile and greetings. I asked her quietly if sales were very bad. She said she had sold nothing. It was nearly 9 pm when I stopped at her small table under the tree.
She said that the temples were all closed on order. The park also. Passersby were few. No one bought anything.
Her items are perishable. She travels to Koyambedu to buy flowers. Bus charges are substantial. When the days pass like today, it's not just zero earnings, it's a loss.
The flowers fade away. She also fades away.
She is one of the 'masses'. Her son is a drunk. She and her daughter in law run the home. Her daughter in law works as a maid in a few homes.
She has a rickety table and a rickety stool on a corner of the footpath. That is her entire business.
Fading flowers, trying to act unfaded ...
Today on the streetside I saw the rickety table back, and the familiar figure I had been seeking so long. Kaveri, from whom we used to buy flowers daily. Because she needs to sell them as much as my daughter loves to wear flowers.
But after the lockdown the table stayed forlorn, and I had tried to reach her in vain.
Today she was there again, with a few flowers. Sad lookin flowers. She called out seeing me, and chatted with usual warmth. And asked if I wanted flowers. She said take it all, give what you want. I gave her the
money I had been trying to reach to her last few days in this lockdown.
And she continued in a lower voice. How her grandson had had a cold and wheezing, and how he was admitted in the government hospital at Egmore. How the ambulance took him, and they came back after 3 days. They needed to take an auto, 500/-, as there was no transport. ... money vanishes these days in a minute.
I took her number now, and have her mine. It feels better.
As I walked down, the old man with his tea cart was back. And further some more women with flowers spread on the footpath.
The poor are back, doing all that they know to do. To try to eke a living. To earn an honest days wage.
Social distancing can happen to us whose meals are assured ...



Went down the street. To the woman selling flowers on the rickety wooden table. Under the rickety tree.
My friend. Kaveri.
"I called out to you yesterday. You didn't hear me !", she welcomed me with a smile.
On foot one never misses. On a cycle I must have missed her call. I'm glad I don't have a car. One misses so much more on important things the faster one speeds. Like friends calling out. From a rickety wooden table.
She gave me what she had, flowers. Roses. Marigolds. Tulasi. Said to put it for the gods. A wreath of jasmine, and asked me to put it on. Right then. "You don't wear flowers.", She complained. I obediently tucked it into my plait.
I gave her what I had. Some hundreds in my purse. She can buy some essentials.
Thats how life was always supposed to be I think. Each giving the other what one can. And taking what one needs.
We complicated it.



(Another Day)
The flower vendors tentatively spread out their wares. Hoping against hope for some sales.
Lakshman Rekha is for those of us who can stock up. Not those who need to to earn each days meal that day.. Till their survival concerns are addressed, every strategy is doomed to fail.

We need to step out.
The people surviving on the edge are out there. They have nothing to live on for another two weeks. 3rd May is a lifetime away ...
The flower sellers are there. Hoping hopelessly. Buy what you wish to. But pay enough to cover all their needs.
The peanut vendors are out. With their carts. And very little wares. They probably have no money to buy more. Buy it up. And pay what you think their living expenses will be.
The beggers are there. But very few people to give them anything.
Wear your slippers. And go out. For essentials. Their essentials.
Yes, we all have our essentials in our homes, rice, dal, oil.
They don't.









Into these flower garlands are woven hopes. Seek them out.
Walk down the streets. Buy what the street vendors have, and give what you think that need to sustain themselves and their families. There needs to be no correlation between the two. The vendors apologize, as they take wht you press on them, promise to give extra flowers on another day. Just smile, bow, and move on.
The flower vendors have very few flowers. To buy the wares needs investment of some hundreds. The women don't have that.
And yet they do what they can to try to earn that days food for the children at home. In honest hard working ways.
Further down there are beggers. Sitting in the hot sun. Seeking that days sustenance. Serve them.
Each if us needs to be out these days. Curfew or no curfew.
The country has failed its simplest people. The government has failed.



THE TAILORS

Aparna Krishnan
Last many days I have been searching for the phone number of the roadside tailors near our home. His sewing machine is under the tree wrapped firmly in yellow tarpaulin, in a vain hope that the parts won't rust in a month of disuse. But they are sure to rust, in this sharp seaside breeze. Overhauling the machine will cost money, in times when money will be scarce.
He's in the past stitched a couple of salwar kameez for my daughter, but we never exchanged numbers. Have been rueing that. Today my daughter went close to the wall near his sewing machine in the hope that he would have written him phone number there. And she was right. Bhasa Tailor was written and a phone number. I discovered his name only today. That how class barriers operate in a city.
I called him up. Asked if he could do some stitching for me at his home. He couldn't, his shop is under the tree.
I requested him to please come, that I just wanted to give him something to take. He will come. Some money and some provisions may make this lockdown easier.
The flower sellers, the beggers, the rag pickers, the cycle shop man under the tree, the plumber. They were easier to locate.
But now it has become imperative to reach out further, as far as possible. All whom we don't have numbers of.
All the simpler people can't work from home. Thats our privilege. They have no work. No savings. Rent to pay, essentials to buy.
All of us have our work defined for us next many days to come.
Aparna Krishnan
The hardworking roadside tailor. He called me now.
The first time I reached out to him, two weeks ago, he answered politely. Saying, thank you, but no thank you. He asked me to help others, and that he could manage for now. Firm, dignified, polite.
Respecting his self respect, saluting his self respect, I withdrew. Feeling smaller for having reduced him by asking .
He called me up just now. Defeated. "Madam, can you help ? The lockdown has been extended again. Things have become very hard. Can I send you my account details. Any help you can give."
I will transfer what will take his family thro the month.
But the thought of what it would have cost for him to ask is soul destroying. What are we reducing the strong hard working people if our land to ? Beggers.
But a quiet rage is building up. In me. In all of us. I hope. That rage that can reduce everything to ashes.


Aparna Krishnan
The tailor who used to stitch for me once.
This is his shop ... look carefully under the spacious canopy, by the side if the silent road. That tin box.
I have no idea where he is. I am not able to find out.
The poor of this land go away so silently in times of hardships. Suffering their burdens in silence.
   







The tailor under the tree. Comes every day to his little shop, the small 4 feet by 4 feet tin box. And sits. In hope. In silence. In stillness. Daily.
My wanderings have some fortunate endings sometimes. I discovered he was open one such day.
When I went home, my daughter pulled out all the cloth bits we had and I took it to him to stitch into kurtas. He took the work gratefully.
And asked me to tell whoever I could. That he was there. "People may not know I am here these days, thats why", he explained his request to me.
The burden of facing simple people, seeking work, obviously at the end of their staying power. Gets too much to bear. As days go by.
May 1 
Writing each story is painful. And yet, the stories are real. And theyask to be told.
Govindarajan, the tailor, was sitting in his small tin cubicle. With the kurta stitched. Waiting for me.


"You see, I sit in this small bylane. So no one knows I'm here, waiting to stitch. Even in lockdown.
I have been here under this tree for 20 years. Before that for 10 years I was on the main road. But twice the corporation vehicle came. They told me to get out of my shop. Flattened my shop, and took away the mangled metal. In 1990 it cost me 10,000/- to fabricate it. The next one cost me 35,000/-. Both I lost.
I moved away from the main road. It is safer here. Though people cannot see me. And customers are fewer.
Even here the corporation people come and harass. Say the footpaths are not meant for livlihoods. That I should leave.
How much space am I taking ? How am I a hindrance ? And where can I go to ?
A few years ago the High court gave a notice. See, I've stuck it on my door. That we can work in our sheds. Still they come and harass.
And now in Corona things have become much harder. There is no work."
I listened in silence. Facing the entire burden of my privilege. In the face of people pushed to the utter edge of survival.
Whom does the footpath belong to if not to Govindarajan ? To the wealthier citizens who take their pet dogs out for evening walks ?? Who decides ???
I am glad my daughter's birthday kurta,was stitched here. I will post a picture of her in it a few days later. Tomorrow I will bring whatever cloth at home can be stitched.
Anyone in Adyar, Besent Nagar area who can get anything stitched, happy to give you directions  

Aparna Krishnan
The tailor on 6th Cross Road, Besent Nagar. I took his permission to take his picture.


He waits daily for the non existent customer. Please go.
I go to give what I can. He stitched falls for my sarees which have never seen a fall. The 500/- note I gave him today was the best note spent. I promised to bringg more sarees tomorrow.
As we talk, more stories come out. They emerge slowly. The people of our land don't complain. They only seek work. Humbly.
He's handicapped. Only today he showed me his foot. Club foot. With that he has been pedalling his machine for 30 years. Yes it pains he said when I asked.
He cannot fix a motor because he has no shop, just this tin box.
His eyes trouble him too. One eye has had cataract surgery. It cost him 25000/-. The other eye is totally fogged. He cannot afford the money for another operation. I asked him about the free cataract camps. He said some cases are successful. There are cases of people losing their eyes. And that the risk is too much.
Threading the needle is getting hard.
He is waiting for work. Thro Corona. He stitched kurtas nicely for my daughter. He's stitching the falls on my sarees.
Happy to give his number to anyone who would like to give him work.

THE STREETS

Along with other street vendors trying to come back to combat hunger, the ragpicker was also there. In his patched black shirt.
From the almost empty trash bins he had collected a few plastic coca cola bottles, into the big sack over his shoulder. And walked to the next trash can.
Reaching there, he first carefully laid out a piece of old newspaper and from a small tin, placed a heap of yellow colored rice on it for the two dogs that stay near the trash bin. Then he peered into the trash bin. There was nothing and he moved on.



Just made a small round with my daughter. To pick up all the biscuits we could for the street dogs. From whichever shop was open.
Silent roads. Shuttered shops. Just hungry dogs, sniffing at everything. Even the crows are hungry, fluttering everywhere. The trash bins are empty. No food at all. For any living being.
The tea pushcart vendor, the old man, was sitting at the crossing. On a stone. Fondling the street dog which was his faithful companion during the day, sitting under his pushcart. Maybe he had come to see it.
His own earnings have become zero. Overnight. How he could be sustaining himself, one doesn't know. And yet he brought something for the dog.
Further down. The cycle repair man on the footpath was sitting on his wooden box under the neem tree The box which is his shop. In this lockdown there is obviously no customer, no earnings. He was just sitting there. The familiar daily routine maybe brought him there.
What could I ask him. I handed over some money, requesting him to use it for his expenses. He took it in simplicity, with the same ease that he would give to someone in greater need.
A begger sitting silent. With no one to give him anything. Took what I gave silently.
We bought the biscuits. And fed the dogs on the way back.
The curfew has to be broken daily. To do this simple round. Very little, too little, and yet necessary. To do that very little.
Things are harsh. And promise to get harsher. People have no reserves to fall back on. Like we do.


These are hot days when day after day I return with a bagful of things I did not need. From whoever is selling whatever on the footpath. It gives a chance to buy, to connect, and an opportunity to give them what may help them sustain thro difficult times.
... And yet I wonder if these are the days when I am actually buying the most essential things I have ever bought. That which sustains another.



Aparna Krishnan
A begger on the hot footpath. Feet tied up with peices of cloth. Waving at cars too securely airtight to be able to see him, going too fast to slow down for someone like him.
Even my cycle sailed many feet ahead before the rather worn out brakes halted it. And I walked back to him.
... remembering some narratives I have heard from different sources. Like, " They are lazy and easy going. They would rather sit and ask for charity than work.", "Don't give beggers, it encourages such practices."
...And wondered again if those narrators really thought it was an easy choice. To sit on a hot treeless footpath under the unforgiving sun. And hold ones hand out to people. People who do not have the humility to see you. For just that day's meal ...
... And how easily the narrators advise to not give something. To ease that days hunger.
... And marvelled at the arrogance and ignorance privilege bestows.


Tired or not, we simply need to wear our slippers, wear our mask and walk around these days. If we are part of a organized group, thats best maybe. Otherwise if like I do, we simply contribute to those groups, we still need to do our own work. However little.
Vendors, flower sellers, cycle shop repair men. They are all out, seeking what work comes their way. For that days food. They are willing to accept a helping hand, offered humbly. The customers are too few these days.
The temple is closed. But the bhikshudus (called begger in English) are there. Seeking alms.
There is, I have come to realise, nothing wrong in living on alms. We all live on alms. The farmers alms. We are too arrogant to face it. And in the meantime we create a riot. Racing in AC cars, maybe racing abroad, living unsustainable lives, consuming way beyond our share of the eartgs resources. Tearing the earth.
The bhikshudu lives quietly, taking very little. What comes his way that day. In humility. Teaching us all a lesson. If we have the ability to listen.
Today they were sitting outside the closed temple doors, holding their hands out to fast moving cars.
Fast moving cars cannot stop for beggers. I was glad I don't have a fast moving car. My cycle is old, a little rusty, but it stops everywhere. Easily.
A cycle is a kind vehicle. Its demands are simple, and it adapts easily to every call and need.


A friend of mine was in quarantine. He transferred money to me. Asking me to reach out to vendors on streets and give them a helping hand. On his behalf As well. As he could not, being in quarantine.
He will definitely not want his name mentioned, so I am not doing that. I am myself not doing anything much, just being an instrument for him.
I am documenting this just to table possibilities. And ways. To reach out. Personally. Or thro friends. Or family.

I'm not a very gregarious person. It takes me some time to get to easy conversations. I look with awe at people who immediately get into back slapping familiarity on day 1. And in the context of doing our bit in these very difficult Corona times also it plays up.
Why I am saying this here is just this. It may help another friend seeking to help and hesitating to take the first step. To know that we all face this same difficulty. And need to move on despite it.
When I want to reach out to all the street vendors around me, to see if can lend a hand, it's not exactly easy for me.
The ones whom I know well is simple. The man who repairs my cycle. The lady I buy flowers from. They are old friends, and give and take is easy.
The others. Well, I go on the first day to just buy a few lengths of flowers, or some groundnuts. I make some small conversation. I go the next day, again hesitate to offer help. Though I know they are struggling. The paucity of wares in their small small square of sacking is testimony that. As also the absence of customers.
Day three I hand over some money and essentials, saying I understand how hard the times are, and this could help with some essential purchases. Please.
... hoping that it is seen and accepted in the spirit I mean.
Hard working people, with a dignity that enables them to struggle against all odds. I feel very small even offering such help. Yet I need to.
But most of the times, it is accepted in the same simplicity with which the so called poor always help another in greater need.
... Difficult times. For the so called giver, and the so called receiver. Yet we need to go through the act.
(Another day)
I walked down the darkening streets with my bag of biscuits. Blue packets of glucose biscuits.The 5/- a packet kind. For the street dogs.
I passed the pushcarts on the sidewalks, tied down with yellow tarpaulin and rope. Carts with glass bangles under the tarpaulin. Carts with plastic wares under the tarpaulin. Carts with slippers under the tarpaulin.
The roads were quiet, the birds were chirping. It was still. In the fast approaching darkness.
I see posts describing the beauty of nature in these lockdown times.
And as I read them I see the carts. And the nameless faces behind the carts. Which have no more daily earnings.
I see the face of that man with his earrings spread on a small plastic sheet, that day before the lockdown. I bought 15 pairs of earrings that evening. Not knowing what else to do. Helplessly.
And the next day the lockdown began. The man has disappeared. As the poor politely do. Without troubling us. Or our sleeping conscience.
And the quiet, peaceful roads suddenly start looking menacing. Not beautiful.

THE DOGS

The street dogs in my area are all starving, and sniffing at each stone and leaf on the deserted roads. At looking hopefully at each passer by, and following them wagging their tails.
The tea shop owners, and other vendors and also the walkers made up an ecosystem that supported them. With kindness.
They are all lost now. What can we do ? I will go daily and feed a few, but more than that ?


We had just sat down for reading today's chapter of Bhagavad Geeta after lighting the evening lamp.Then the rain suddenly stopped.
I got up telling my daughter, "Need to get the biscuits to the dogs on the main road. They might come out on the road with the rain stopping. Dog is more important than God now"
She clarified, "Dog is God."
... that stage is a step in the path of true religiousness. From the Ekaroopa darshanam, where God is a God figure. To the Vishwaroopa darshanam. Where God exists in all of creation. It proceeds to Aham Brahmasmi. Where God and self merge.


Humble, almost insignificant lives go on. Through larger narratives.
Small stories. Yet none the less essential.
A morning trip for a bagful of ordinary glucose biscuits. The young woman at the desk obviously wondering why I buy up the stock alternate days. My silent prayer that she won't ask. The prayer to date is answered.
The cycle basket overflowing with these packets. And I trying to look as if the cycle I am pedalling and the basket and the contents are not mine. As I see curious eyes rest on them. Wondering.
But for the daily evening walk with my daughter. We need these.
The street dogs that live near the closed shops on the main road are very hungry these days. They were being fed by some people in the initial lockdown days. But as days drag on, the people seem to have stopped coming. Or maybe they are going and feeding dogs elsewhere.
The dogs wait in anticipation in the evening for these cheapest of biscuits. They wait politely as I spin in a circle placing a handful before each if them. One has teeth that stick out like fangs and a mauled face. The first day I was scared to approach it. But now I don't think about it. It needs the food. The rest is in God's hands. I do not think it will bite. It only looks ferocious because of its damaged features. I think.
One sick dog with a moth eaten skin, and badly deformed legs moves away in fear if the other dogs approach. Or if I approach. So I follow it. Placing a few biscuits. Stepping back. Then stepping ahead with a few more.
Hoping the while the homeless poor on the footpath don't find my feeding the dogs atrocious. Around the same time packed meals come for them in a cart. But yesterday as I was feeding a few dogs, one of the ladies on the footpath called out to me, "See he's waiting patiently behind you.", and yes yes another dog was there behind me silently waiting. The lady and I smiled at each other happily.
Thats how friends happen in life. Thro shared concerns. Shared aches. Shared efforts. ... and I opened another biscuit pack for that dog.

The most meaningful thing I do in the day is the evening walk, breaking curfew, to the market street to feed the dogs. With shops closed their food supply has stopped.
The dogs wait for the cycle basket full of biscuits. I like to think they also wait for me.
They stand patiently in their places, ladies and gentlemen. None comes running to snatch what I place for another. Not one barks to draw attention to itself.
That dignity, that simplicity. That makes receiving a far greater act than the giving.
The dog with protruding fang like teeth that my daughter ran from the first day is a gentle soul. He just looks like that. His look is worse than his bite.
At the end of the road there are some youth. Cart vendors, auto drivers. Out of work. They come and help me with the biscuits. They were the ones who lovingly sustained this community of dogs. Now that they are themselves seeking food, they would be are to feed them less than usual. So they also welcome my cycle.
They call to the dogs. Mole, Karuppusamy ... They go down to narrow lane to call another lady who will miss the party. They place the biscuits respectfully before the dogs in a clean dusted part of the road. They feed them by hand.
I stand humbled. Watching.
Learning again that the art of giving is greater than the act of giving.


Jimmy. And Monica.
Today I got officially introduced to two of my friends. As I reached with the biscuits, the families living on the footpath called out to them. 'Vaa Monica. Buscuit vandhiditchu.'". And Monica came at a dignified pace.
Jimmy was also asked to come. He I was told had a lot of 'gauravam'. Self respect. He would take only from some, and if it was given in the proper manner. So when he started eating the biscuits I felt honoured. More so when the young girl on the footpath, now a friend since the last few days, told me approvingly, "Nee gauravathoda kudikirai.". 'You give respectfully.'
If I have learnt that lesson, I am grateful. That is how a village gives. To each person in need. To each person who asks. With humility, with completeness, with gratitude. Grateful for the opportunity to give.
This was one of the first lessons my village, a so called poor village, of landless agricultural PaalaGuttaPalle Dalitwada taught me. Not in words. But in daily living. In being.


The dog with fangs, and with the heart of a kitten, walked down as I reached on my cycle with biscuits. It was dusk. He sniffed my saree all around. Establishing connection first. Saying his welcome.Then he started on his biscuits.
I think slowly the trust has got established. It happens with regularity, with commitment. As between humans, so with animals, and with humans and animals.
The unlikeliest friendships last a lifetime, after ups and downs. Relationships that seemed to be forever end as one side breaks deal. Changes. Moves on.
So also with animals. Relationships needs nurturing. Regularity. Faith.
Monica and Jimmy were there eager for their biscuits. Waiting politely. A little away. I placed their biscuits down carefully on the footpath.
Then the young woman Shanti (name changed) waved out to me with her broad smile as she got the other dog down. The dog with gauravam. With dignity. Who would never rush. Who would wait to be invited. Today also he stood till I invited him. Then graciously started eating. As I stood by grateful.
I then asked Shanti if her food had come. An organisation was giving the street dwellers lunch and dinner. She nodded vigorously.
...and in simplicity asked me back, " And yours came ?".
... And the reality that I was evading hit. Like a slap. Her world as a pavement dweller. Mine enconsed in my privilege. Where daily meals for myself, and to share with another, have never been an issue.
... Bonded over a common concern for the dogs. Bonded through her greatness is not harbouring resentment again me for the disparity. Bonded through her simple friendliness.
... And yet. An unforgivable disparity. For which I can only hang my head. In shame. That we have permitted it. And that we live it.
... One country. Yet two universes. That we inhabit.
... Hers and mine. Unbridgeable ...


I reached after dusk today. With the biscuits. The lady living on the footpath called out with a voice full of concern and relief, "Thank God you have come. Today the person who brings their food daily has not come.".
When we cohabit a space we become one. That sharing of space is essential. The men and women on the footpath and the dogs are all a family, a community. Caring for each other.
And that non sharing is the tragedy of modernity. The so called rich and the so called poor live in different universes. Schools, hospitals, neighborhoods, shops ... all different. And there is no more any sharing, any understanding.
Without shared lived experiences, there can be no understanding. There can only be chasms. Deeper and deeper.
The dogs were all hungry. And yet maintained etiquette. Each waiting for me to put their share before them. Not barking. Not pushing into another's share. And eating with gravity. And at a steady pace.
The community on the footpath is like my village. Friendly, warm, sharing, dignified. And inclusive.
They have accepted me with ease for which kindness I am deeply grateful. A lady from the another world, on a cycle, in a cotton saree, with a daily load of inexpensive biscuits for their dog friends. Taken at face value, with simplicity, grace. And warmth.


Nondi. Lame. The name of the dog I need to seek out on the footpath to place before it it's food. He is lame and old and also has a skin issue. But he wags his tail. In welcome. Sammy and Brownie come running to greet me. And wait for their food.
Friendship can be acknowledged in so many ways. Simple to complex. And rejected in an equally many number of ways. Between humans and animals. As between humans.The nuances are so delicate.
The footpath dwellers told me his name today, Nondi, The Lame One. The names of the others they told me on other days. The men and women on the footpath are also now friends. They are happy that I feed their friends, the dogs. Their own food comes in a van around the same time.
A daily ritual, at dusk. Predictable. Dependable. Rituals build up friendships. Tentatively, brick by brick.
Monica, Sammy, Seenu, Karuppan, Brownie, Mole, Karupusamy. And Nondi. And some more whose names I still don't know. I will wait to get properly introduced.
Everything has a pace. To extend a hand. For the hand to be accepted. For the engagement to get closer. It's many notes being played. Till sometimes, once in many attempts, the perfect note is struck. And that is as close to heaven as the human can aspire for.
Monica, Seenu, Brownie, Mole and the others, all walk down the road as my cycle turns the corner in the fading light. Some walk more briskly, some at a slower gait befitting their age. A welcome. An affirmation.
Tomorrow I may request them for a photo. And if they permit, I will post it. A photo of my new found four legged friends.

My daughter told me that the main road was cordoned off and asked how we could reach the dogs on the street. My heart sank. The ten dogs there. Waiting ...
Just many fistfulls of biscuits. Nothing much. But the eagerness with which they wait, the completeness with which they demolish their share. Their walking down when I'm distant on the horizon, their patient waiting for their share ...
An important anchor to the day, to oneself.
I had lately started thinking that I was going as a sense of duty, rather tired by days end sometimes.
It took me the possibility that I could not go, seen them, do what I could for them, to understand how much they had begun to matter.
The road was not cordoned off, the pilgrimage was made. Monica, Jimmy, Molle, Karupusamy, Fangi, ...
As with dogs, so with humans. We need to (nearly) lose somebody to understand how much they mattered ...

On the footpath today, the old lady who lives there said, nodding her head gently, "Good you are feeding these dogs daily. They are voiceless creatures.".
I know from my own village, how the poorest from their own very small portion, will always give away a share to the animals around them.
And tht we who give a small portion of our surplus can never measure upto them who give away from their own needs. On that final day of reckoning.

The utter lightness, delicateness of sensitivity.
Again it was past dusk today by the time I reached the main road. As I bent down and gave handfuls of biscuits to the dogs that came down as they saw my cycle, a little boy came running down from the footpath. A year old baby, completely unclothed , in keeping with the hot day, with a headful of tight curls. And a wide smile
He also demanded his share from me holding out a podgy hand. I gave him what his tight fist could hold. His grandmother followed him and tried telling him it was dog biscuits. His young father explained to her, in case I felt bad, that I filled the tin with freshly opened packets daily.
The grandmother smiled at me, nodded, let it be. But after I moved on, after she thought i was out if earshot, she prised open the baby's fist and took away the biscuits and gave them to the dogs. And gave him something she had in the folds of her saree instead.
She had waited for me to go so that I would not feel bad.
I was deeply grateful for her thoughtfulness.
That care, that sensitivity. The dignity they have, and that they also offer to the person before them.
This is true culture.
That I see in my village, and that I also see in the footpath dwellers here.


Total lockdown. Was worried about the street dogs. I tied the mask, and walked down with my bag. A little apprehensive, but deciding to accost the police, before they accosted me. I went to the big uniformed man on the chair at the street crossing and asked him if I could feed the dogs. He nodded vigorously, "Of course, of course. The dogs need food." Allaying all my doubts with his bluff goodness.
So that was solved that simply, and I went down. And the dogs from the other end of the street came at a canter.
There is no happier state of being than this daily moment. Of feeling welcomed thus.
The lady on the footpath also welcomed me with a smile. She had put away a part of her lunch wrapped in the paper. She showed me, for the dogs. She said she had also given them some biscuits.
She said. "Food comes for us, we are ok. The dogs, voiceless creatures. We need to do what we can." Am immensely grateful to know her. I draw my own strength from her and others like her. When concerns are shared, all other manmade walls of class and social walls dissolve. In a oneness.

The young watchman, as I was feeding the dogs was talking. "It's so sad to see the dogs hungry. Daya aati hai. Kya karoon. What can I do. They come and ask me. I have nothing with me to give. No food.
Earlier I used to daily buy food for 40/- from.Amma canteen. I used to get a lot. It was enough for me and the dogs. Now as it's free they give very limited quantity. And the queue is so long that I cannot stand again and get food."
He's from Bihar, Nalanda District, he told me. A young man, needed to go back as his wife is pregnant, but the lockdown happened a couple of days before.
"Food is now very difficult for us all from our villages. It's not money. Where can we get our food ? No Street vendors with food anywhere. All my people in Chennai are facing hunger."
... a man who out of his small salary, was buying food daily for street dogs. Is today facing hunger. I said I would get him food daily. Thats the least I can do for someone who has done so much for the dogs. Invisibly. Unselfconsciously. Simply.
We need to put on our slippers, and step out. The stories are there. Waiting to be heard. Waiting to reach thro our closed eyes and hearts. With their simple honesty.

With total lockdown the street dogs were hungrier than ever.
While I was figuratively wringing my hands and wondering however I could cook in such bulk and try to take it down, my daughter asked me to contact Dinesh Baba aka @SocialPrani of Insta. As they would have the infrastructure to do it in a better and more structured manner.
I called up, and the details were noted. I was promised that these dogs would be taken care of from the night round.
Today morning itself I got a video asking if these were the dogs ! Such a joy to see Karuppan, Browni, Nondi, Seenu ... And to see them eating. I will make my contribution to this splendid work. Other friends may also if they wish to allow wider reach to such work.
You do a great job guys ! 


The footpath. The daily companiable evening time with the dogs, sharing some food.
And the usual friendly enquiry to the elderly lady there, " Your meals have come ?"
"Innuku May Day ma. Nalla saapaadu vandidu. ...", She assured me with her usual pleasent smile. ... today is May Day, we got very good food.
As always, she seeks to reassure me.
Not a roof on her head, the footpath for a bed, uncertainty for a companion. And yet always a smile. Always concern for the hungry dogs, sharing her meals with them. Telling me, "We have a voice, they have none. Keep coming ma."
What are the wellsprings of contentment ?
Where does infinite generosity arise from in the heart ?
That courage to share the very small portion that is all that one has ?
This has been my most fundamental search down the years. In my village. In the footpaths in cities.
STORIES


Aparna Krishnan
9 hrs
Lockdown is teaching me the infinite value of things whose infinite value I had forgotten.My one and only safety pin today. Made of steel. From iron mined by miners from the depths of the earth.Which I used to buy casually from the footpath vendors, and use and lose.Is today more precious than all the precious gems. Protected and cherished.



Waiting in a que. Two women discussing animatedly about how the 'educated' people are 'disciplined' as opposed to the 'padipu illada vanga'.
They looked at me for approval. I disapproved.
Made two more enemies today. I like my class less and less as days go by ...

No comments:

Post a Comment