October 27, 2010
Tonight I was having dinner at the usual little restaurant by the street when Tom came by, like last night. He talks a lot (and people who talk a lot usually bore me), but he says interesting things, so I listen. Sometimes I get lost, in particular when he talks too much about gods, but when he mentioned white and black magic (you can hurt someone you don’t like or make it die for as little as 35?!) that is well established in this area, he got my full attention.
We started to talk about the children that live in the street; apparently many come from Biha, a very poor region in the North of India.
Street Kid no. 1: Mitun
Mitun, for example, is 8 years old and works at the stall where I have breakfast; he comes from a village in Biha. He has two brothers and three sisters, his parents didn’t have enough money to feed him. The two guys who manage the stall come from the same village, so they offered him the job. He works from 8am to 10pm, bringing chai and breakfast to people sitting on the benches like me, he keeps asking if you need more. He earns 600 IR too per month, about 9,50 euro, plus food and lodging (on the floor of the tiny room where the two managers also sleep, still better than the street). It’s not a lot, but he has something to eat and the little he can save he sends home. And the most important part is that he’s not on his family shoulders anymore, he actually helps them. But he can’t even write his name. I think he should at least learn the basics of bengali and maths, if simply to check he’s given the right amount of money. But if the option is to die of hunger…
Street kid no 2: Masul
Masul also comes from that region. He’s 25, or maybe 21. He also came to the big city because his family is very poor. He “works” for an ngo that allocates medicines to drug users near the New Market. He’s an interpreter for them. In exchange of a few hours of work he gets food. I saw him this morning, sleeping on the sidewalk in front of my hotel. He’s smart, he makes himself understood in English (with some difficulty) and likes to tell stories (about values in life and the many girlfriends he’s had). He is also illiterate. He does things he’s not proud of. For example his parents are not happy of the work he does (maybe because he doesn’t earn any money? I didn’t understand this part) and he has no time to pray. But he does acts of kindness from time to time. For example one day he crossed an old lady who was crying because she didn’t have anything to eat; he had R20 in his pocket (0.30?) and gave them to her. Because what you give, good or bad, you get it back. That is something I also believe in. Or at least I hope so. It’s the only solace when I think of my former room-mate who didn’t give me back 200?.
Street kid no 3: Dip
Dip is also 20 years old. His family is from an area near Kolkata. He works in a stall where I always buy lemon juice and banana shake with my dinners and breakfasts. He earns very little and sleeps on top of the shop counter, that during the night stays in the street. But he has something to eat. And can write his name in English and Bengali.?
I don’t know about the others. I have the feeling many choose to live in the street because it’s easy. Nights are not cold, they can bath at public fountains, and with the money they get from begging they can open a bank account, with not much trouble and no need to work. But I feel bad when they take kids to the street. Children don’t have a choice. Some families have been living in the street for generations. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they don’t like it neither. Sure, I don’t envy them.
There are those that can’t work because they have physical malformations and in India there is no social or health system that can help them. And the city does not have wheelchair facilities or footpaths (well, there are actually very few wheelchairs, people can’t afford them, usually if they can’t walk they just drag themselves on the pavement with the help of the arms), working would be impossible.
This is a situation that strucks you when you visit India. People are generally very friendly and nice, and they co-exist with this terrible situation. I guess I could also get used to it. It’s a problem not easy to tackle.