On a leisurely, though sultry afternoon, I got into a Churchgate-bound local. The train was not too packed, which gave me the luxury to freely let my gaze move around and observe the various specimens of humanity that call this city their home. From the mandatory newly-wed couple seemingly lost in their own world to the typical share-market somebody conversing on the phone at a decibel level high enough to bring down the WTC, this particular compartment was amost resembling a microcosm of the human species.
The train had crossed Mahim when my ears detected a sound that seemed to be particulary distinct from the rest, a voice that seemed to carry the burden of pathos arising from lost dignity. It belonged to an old woman who seemed to be on the wrong side of 70 at first glance. She was moving around the compartment begging for alms. Now, beggars are not an uncommon entity to come across in this part of the world but this one had something disturbingly different about her. In stark conmtrast to other beggars who seek to literally blackmail you into parting with a few units of Indian currency, she moved across the compartment with her hand stretched out, though she did not seem to be beseeching people for some cash. If somebody did put a coin in her hand, she gratefully acknowledged it, otherwise she just moved on. All along, she seemed to be speaking to herself and I concentrated, trying to make out the contents. As I listened to her, what I managed to make out was – she and her husband were turned out of her house by her son who was of the opinion that they had outlived their utility to him. Since her husband was ailing, she was forced to beg in the trains. Though I was initially reluctatant to believe her entirely, her voice had a honesty that I found difficult to ignore. Also, one of her sentences stayed with me – “Whatever you do in life, ensure that you don’t have to depend on your kids in your old age”. These were the utterances of someone who had been subjected to the ultimate ignominy – that of your children throwing you away like used towels after all that you had done for them. Those words really disturbed me deep within. They were a symbol of broken faith, and subconsciously I found myself standing in the trial-box – a representative of the ‘human’ society that had failed her miserably.