That night we went out on an impulse to eat at a famous roadside eatery. It was just the four of us - me, hubby, and our daughters.
The night was cool and it was quite cosy sitting inside the car - a great way to have some delicious roadside food. We ordered in a rush, wanting to sample most of the possible delicacies that were so tempting.
Hubby headed to the stall and I was sitting inside with the kids, my window rolled down a bit. It was then that I heard her, a soft whisper, a soft, hesitated asking.
She was selling balloons, those beautiful colorful things of our childhood that kids these days probably don't have much charm left for. Maybe it's us, the parents, who have successfully managed to deviate them from all things simple and move towards the more 'sophisticated' world of gadgets...alas...
I turned to look at her. She was a thin woman, of course a migrant from some village, her dirty saree draped around her, covering her head, a thin hand holding on to the supposedly wonderful things she was trying to sell on that busy food stall packed road, but wasn't making much success of.
She gestured towards my kids, asking me if I would like to buy them some balloons. I told her with an apologetic smile that it wouldn't be comfortable to carry it all the way back, and that I didn't need any. She gestured towards my older one - 'maybe she will like one?'
'No,' I said, and shook my head. I could see her thinking.
'For the baby? She will like?' she asked, gesturing with her chin towards my younger one.
'No' I smiled back. 'She is too young.'
She stood there, waiting, hesitating, I could see she would ask something.
Then, with a very soft voice, 'you'll give me some money? Haven't eaten anything. Any money?'
I am always wary of handing out money. While I do mostly buy food and hand out, I do it mostly with children or the elderly on the road. Or of course if there is someone who is genuinely in need of food, I always try and buy some along with mine. I haven't managed to yet learn the art of eating happily while someone watches me hungrily.
I looked around, hoping she would have a child, a baby, something that would give me an excuse of giving her food.
She was quick to understand.
'I have baby, I have.'
I looked around but couldn't see any baby. 'Where?'
'There, he is over there with his father.'
I turned again, but couldn't see. I told her to let it be.
'I promise I have a baby didi, give me food? For my baby? Money? Or something to eat?'
There was no baby around anywhere, and I had seen too many people lying just like that. I felt bad saying no, but said it.
The food arrived, loaded with spices and cheese and cream and what-not. She stood there, at the edge of my vision, looking at the food, I knew she was, and I felt a pang. But I handed it over to my daughter, without having the heart to take a bite.
She went away.
All the food arrived and we were well on our way when I saw him - the little boy, roughly my daughter's age, already fallen asleep on his father's shoulder, with the exhaustion of the entire day. It was beyond 10 pm then, and the little boy's head was cradled on his father's bony frame, a thin hand draped around the father.
The family of three came quietly and sat down on the pavement, looking at all the people enjoying their food, patting their hungry baby back to sleep.
It was a shame, the way I was doubting her, the way I was looking for her baby as an excuse to share food. I couldn't eat any more then.
We got them some food, packed it up and gave it to them. I told hubby that I was done, that I was full, that I didn't want to eat any more.
As we left, I turned back to look at her. She was looking at me too, with those tired soft eyes of her. And even though I could see a quiet thanks in those eyes, it was a shame and a guilt in mine.
- Debolina Raja Gupta
And like I always believe in and say:
"Heal the world we live in
Save it for our children" - MJ
Debolina Raja Gupta