I’ve become pretty good at ignoring people here; the people who point, the people who comment (both positive and otherwise…), the people who beg, the people who incessantly tap the window panes of my car, the people who sell matches and petty candy with tooth free smiles, the people who aren’t fully formed yet but children with pimps and pushers for family. By ignoring I mean my face is expressionless and money doesn’t make it’s way from my wallet to theirs, but ignoring internally? Well, that doesn’t come so easily.
There is a woman without legs who begs on my street corner. She sits where busy traffic rounds the street with her hands out and head piously bowed. I don’t know how she makes anything because I’ve never seen anyone stop their hurried traffic turn to drop a hand-out but she must. Recently a co-worker told me that daily she sees her slide out the door of a fancy, black SUV to her begging perch. Any money that goes to her actually ends up in the hands of her ‘provider’, a man I’m sure with deep pockets.
Another time as Neil and I were attempting to board a train in New Dehli we were told by a security guard that my ticket wasn’t confirmed, the WS beside my ticket number means ‘Wait Seated’ and I should report to the office upstairs to see if my seat had been confirmed. We sped up the stairs only to be told (by a real train station employee) that WS means ‘Window Seat’ and that we were mislead by a scammer who undoubtedly was hoping to mug us on the dark, unopened and unpopulated ‘office’ floor.
Today, friends and I were stuck in traffic as we drove to our local park. I watched a man clean the car window of our neighbouring vehicle and receive a handout of a head shake and an amused smile from the driver instead of a coin. He started on our windshield next, despite the fact that our driver shook her head and gestured that it wasn’t needed/wanted. He cleaned it anyway. It was spotless, actually, which is rare enough that it probably warranted some payment but our wallets were in the trunk. With the final flourish of the squeegee, the window-cleaner requested payment and we repeated the ‘no’. Traffic started and we moved forward but there was enough time for me to see utter and absolute loss, pain and frustration storm across his face. Actually there was enough time for me to feel his loss, pain and frustration. Somehow, for a moment his story became my story, his pain became my pain and I saw him. Not with pity, or sympathy or caution, or scepticism but with the open eyes and heart of one human to another human. It actually physically hurt but it also felt good to not ignore for a moment, to connect, to know compassion.
Living here has largely taught me lessons in inhumanity. I tried showing kindness to the homeless, begging and abused street hawkers by smiling and acknowledging their existence with eye contact and a polite ‘no thank you’, but I was berated with ‘Mam Sabs’ and frantic grabbing; with day long acts of ‘shadow shopping’ and weepy, limp babies thrust into my arms. I had to disconnect. If you show that your human, treat others like they’re human, they descend like a pack of hungry (which they probably are) and desperate (again a most likely statement) wolves. This is my life here. This is where I shop and where I live. To participate in this daily grapple is exhausting, and there is an alternative: ignore it…just don’t feel it.
So, what to do? Too feel or not to feel? That is my question.