Temperature: many degrees below normal
On this day, at that time and temperature, my ritualistic walk down the Jose de San Martin Marg was made a bit different. Mist was thin, not as blinding as it is at present. Breathing in the tender vapors floating around in the fog, I started walking. The sand bag bunker had always been there on the footpath- may be since the time Obama came to stay in a hotel right on the parallel road, or since the time of the glorious Commonwealth Games- I had never cared to as much as cast a second glance at it. With the concerns of VIP security eased, the bunker now sat as a perfunctory accessory on the footpath; someone had also taken away the upper few layers of sand bags. I did ponder for sometime what use stealing sand might serve. Still, it stood there as a vandalized, inutile accessory. Not quite. Someone was using it today.
Cold is my nemesis. Yet, I like playing with it. That day, I was wearing four layers of clothes, including my dad's favorite sweater (I had fought for it in the morning), and my mother's overcoat. I had my hair open, pulled to cover my ears adequately, topped by a thick muffler, muffling my sense of smell and sound- it covered nearly three quarters of my face. My juniors, sometimes, fancifully tag me as a 'polar bear' because of my attire. Yet, a peculiarity was, I was wearing slippers. Only slippers, sans any socks. It was my style statement. I shiver and shudder in cold, my teeth clatter, and I scare people with my convulsive behavior. Yet, I don't wear socks. I hate wearing them. It defies all logic. My body is sensitive to cold in extreme amounts, and yet, i refuse to protect the most cold-sensitive part of my body. Ma says, half (or more) of my quivering would cease if I cover my feet adequately. But, there are certain things/practices, which one is senselessly, obdurately a follower of. 'Bad habits' we call them. Not wearing socks is not as bad a habit as picking one's nose, but in Delhi's torturous chill, subjecting my feet to that amount of chill, because of which they turn dry, and almost white with cold rashes, is definitely criminal.
Feeling the prickly chill attack my almost bare feet, I quickened my steps, only to be slowed down at the sight of that bunker. Very astonishingly, a human form manifested inside it. A huddled human form. It was a male. I could only see his back; his face was pressed between his knees. What I saw, made my heart sink for a moment. The only thing covering, or trying to cover his body was a plastic sheet. More appropriately, it was an assembly of see-through polythene bags, the ones now banned by our State Government, quite resourcefully tied together to cover some parts of his upper torso. Most of his lower back was bare- thats how far I could see. His form was shivering. I was shivering too, not of cold though. My effectively protected face might not have been able to feel the blowing winds; part of me had till now been enjoying them. He, definitely could not escape the agony inflicted by those very winds- the polythene bags waged a futile battle against them.
I slowed down, but I did not stop. My gaze fixed on that form, I moved past it. The last vision I have of him did not help. It would have been okay to remember having seen his back, to have remembered him as a faceless memory. If only he would have crouched a little longer, I would have been a lot more peaceful today. But he looked up, looked around. He looked scared. Or may be his expression only depicted his hapless and helpless state against the winter. I am not good with other descriptions, but I did have a brief eye contact with him. A very normal set of eyes. A slightly watery set of eyes. A needy set of eyes.
I averted my gaze and walked on. I was trying to revive my numb mind. Honestly, I felt dumb. My human instinct told me, I should help. My mind questioned, 'how?'. Am I silly? How? I was wearing a burdensome weight of winter clothing, and I did not know 'how' to help? I stopped some twenty steps ahead. I thought again- what can I give him? I searched for newspapers in my bag-dunno for what reason- but I had none, no piece of stationary in fact.
I knew both my pieces of winter clothing were very expensive- prized by my mother and father. Were they more expensive than his well being? I could not answer. I did not know what to answer at home; how to answer at home. And so, on that lazy, sleepy winter morning, I walked ahead, with little tears in my eyes. Never have I been more annoyed with my tears- because today they did not depict helplessness. Today they projected uselessness, and shamelessness.
Throughout my first lecture at college, I kept praying for someone to help him out. Honestly, did I even have a right to pray? Or what chance did my prayer stand of being answered when I had acted so dumb? We cannot just shirk our responsibilities as a member of the society, or the planet to say the least, and then hope that God will take care of all.
Next day, along with a group of IEEE volunteers, I had to go to the UN house to give a presentation on Millennium Development Goals. I was supposed to speak on the first MDG- eradication of hunger and poverty. More specifically, 'reducing by half the proportion of people living below the global poverty line and suffering from hunger'. We gave a mighty good presentation. I was cherubic, and interactive and convincing in what I said there.
But, when I came back home, I felt a tad hollow. That was because, in the morning, the footpath had been cleared of that bunker, which had just found a new purpose for existing there. The swiftness of it's removal was fantastic. I like to believe that the man hiding within it was relocated to one of the many shelters that the Delhi government has built for the destitutes. That does seem logical enough. The people who came to remove him could not have simply driven the barely clad man away. No way. He would have been safely moved to a shelter, given a blanket, some morsels to eat, and would have slept soundly. Or, would it have been otherwise? Would it have been the way I feared?
That spectacle still haunts me. Rightly so. At least in future I would know how to be quicker and more austere in my decision making.
One more thing I wish for. When we look at the state of affairs around us, we , the moral ascetics, are dejected, often frustrated, ask questions, demand solutions. I wish, that really soon in life, I find myself in a position to crossover to the other side, and be the provider of 'answers'-an appreciator of good questions, but capable of providing better solutions.
PS- I have started wearing socks. It is amazing. I shiver less. I am able to enjoy the winter more now.
|The Conference at UN House on 4th December, 2010, to mark the International Volunteer day.|
Seen in the picture above is a team of IEEE volunteers giving a presentation on UN MDGs.