The inspiration (if you may call it so) for this post arises from something I came across while travelling by train about a month ago. Now, train travel in a melting pot like Mumbai does give rise to a plethora of experiences provided you keep your eyes and ears open in the right sense. Even then, I had not accounted for what I eventually saw and heard.
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.
Though I got down the train after some time, the image of that old lady, broken by fate, yet holding on to the last shreds of dignity, has remained with me. It really set me thinking as to how people can be so insensitive and cruel (that’s the only word that comes to my mind right now) so as to desert their parents when they need them the most. Having had an upbringing which holds familial ties above (almost) everything else and having seen my parents take so much care of their ailing parents, I really find it diffcult to comprehend what makes people do that. I guess it all boils down to your basic nature combined with the kind of upbringing you have had. Also, the dog-eat-dog realities of metrolpolitan living tend to scrape off the remaining shards of humanity. I believe that we seriously need to have in place a system to take care of the elderly. After all, a dignified life is the bare minimum that they deserve after all that they have done to make us into what we are today. The government infrastructure might succeed in resolving the problem to some extent but by and large, its our collective responsibility as a society to give our elders an environment in which they don’t have to beg in train compartments to survive. In our own small ways, we can contribute towards this. It is for each of us to figure out for themselves as to what they can do but we have to do something if we wish to make any claims of being a ‘civilised’ society.
P.S: Writing this post was a moving experience for me and I find myself increasingly willing to do something towards it.How that is to be done – I will decide soon. If reading this post awakens the desire to make a difference in even a single person, I will consider this post a success.