You are walking down a normal Indian street and you happen to see a small 6 year-old girl on the pavement. The girl is in torn rags, her hand blackened with the grime after she rummaged through the large municipality dustbin nearby and yet, she is happily munching the small amount of food, which she must have found in the dustbin. What is your first reaction on seeing that girl? Disgust or indifference or perhaps a feeling of pity for the people who don’t have the basic necessities of life – clothes, food and shelter.
Well, I am not someone who fosters such feelings. I have seen small kids like that 6 year-old girl countless number of times during my entire childhood and honestly speaking, each time I confronted such a sight, I had a sleepless night. An indescribable feeling of helplessness and anguish gripped me each time, because I was also of similar age and I couldn’t bear to see someone not have a decent childhood as mine. Now, I am a 21-year old adult and I still have the same sleepless nights but the childhood pain has been replaced by anger towards the concerned authorities who do not help such people, and guilt at not being able to help them myself in a substantial manner.
However, I did make small attempts when I was a child, to help such destitute children. It was the year 2003 and I was 11 years old. An age when I began to properly observe and understand the environment around me. I don’t exactly remember the date or the month when this incident happened, but I can say it was summer. I was in a marriage ceremony of one of my father’s office colleagues. Marriages in my hometown Duliajan were exceptionally grand; it seemed the family of the groom or the bride used to make preparations and arrangements the entire year. Everything from the tent and decorations to food and the get-up of the family members and the invitees spoke money. As a child, I loved to attend these functions for I could gorge on dishes, which weren’t usually prepared at home by my mother, except on special occasions.
After spending a few minutes with my parents in the sitting lounge of the tent, we made our way to the food court. Alright, let me state another fact here. On most special occasions in my hometown, be it marriage ceremonies, birthdays or farewell parties, food wasn’t served, rather the buffet system was followed. I don’t know whether it was a right choice or not, as I watched people build a mountain of food on their plates, eat only a quarter of it and throw the rest in the dustbin. My mother helped me stuff some food on my plate and I sat on a nearby chair and began relishing the delicious food. When I was done eating, I threw the plate in the dustbin and headed towards the wash basin. Suddenly, I noticed a small girl of around 6 years a few steps away from the wash-basin. She was with a grown-up lady, probably her mother, who was busy clearing another food dustbin into a dug-out pit. The little girl was licking a plastic bowl, where sweet dishes were served in the food court. She had definitely picked it up from the dustbin. I watched her intently for sometime. She looked emaciated and hungry, but the small bits of food stuck to the bowl surface made her happy. I got a lump in my throat. The next moment, I saw the lady and the little girl heading towards me. The lady was bringing the empty dustbin for the next round of to-be-thrown food items.
I don’t know what made me take that rash decision but I dashed towards the place where the Rasmalai was served. I asked the waiter to give me two bowls of the sweet dish. Carefully holding the two bowls in my tiny hands, I walked towards the wash basin. I didn’t bother if anybody was following my actions. I knew I was not doing anything stupid. When I reached my destination, I saw the little girl standing timidly there. Her mother was busy cleaning the food court. I smiled towards her but her face was expressionless. I did not want to scare her so I gently placed the two bowls of sweet dish near her and walked away. As I turned towards her a few seconds later, I watched her eating the sweet dish with such a beautiful expression of joy that mere words couldn’t describe.
That night I cried a lot. The scenes of what I did at the marriage ceremony kept flashing in my mind and tears flowed. They were not tears of pain or guilt of doing something disgusting. They were tears of joy for an act of compassion. A God-gifted joy!