My Camera & My Chai – Introspecting

My Camera And My Chai
My Camera And My Chai

The last picture that I posted, and the article that I put up does seem to evoked a lot of emotion in those who read it. Yet, I did not write about what I felt.

I was standing at the corner, chatting with some men who I was photographing, and I was looking over at the street food vendor’s stall. I watched people eat, and throw their trash into a bin, and I thought – “cool man, we are developing a modicum of civic sense!” That is when I looked down, and saw the old lady sitting by my feet. I got a shock. I have seen poverty. I have seen death. I have seen a little girl right after her “masters” put her eye out because (presumably) she was not raking in enough money. Begging is big business in India, and in many places it is controlled by the mafia. I was told that begging at a singe traffic light can fetch between 100,000 and 150,000 USD per year. I have no way of knowing if this is true, or sensationalist blah. And, I have seen men whose legs had been cut off at the knees and put out to beg because they could not repay a loan.

This indeed is India, the land of Gandhi and the land of the non-violent movement.

And yet, when I saw the old lady sitting there crumpled almost, on the street, I got a shock. It went through me. I wanted to photograph her, and yet I could not. It just did not seem right to stand there over her, and photograph her. I reached down, and gave her ten rupees, which is about 15 US cents. Her gratitude made me feel ashamed and guilty. This meant the world to her, and the money had comparatively less value for me. When I walked around, I saw a man offering her food, and she refused. I think it was because she felt that she could not digest it. When I took the photo, the story of the sadness of her situation, the remains of the food carelessly tossed away, her almost invisibility formed in my mind.

I thought to myself that, for a country that wants to progress we need to do better. For a country that talks so much of our ancient values, and how we must respect our elders – we must do better.

Yes, there is hope. There are rural temples, as mentioned by Bharti Arthray, where they feed poor people. Similarly, in the langar (free kitchen) of the Gurudwaras of the Sikhs, you get free food. Not far away from where I was, people give money to restaurants at the Jama Masjid, to feed people. Kindness and good deeds are not missing. What is missing is real, genuine institutional action to solve problems of this kind.

I wandered off to drink a cup of tea. The tea cost me eight rupees.

Coming to think of it, what had I really done?

All that I had done really, was to give her the equivalent of a little more than a cup of tea. That’s it.

23 Comments

  1. Yes, what Imelda wrote – and you gave from your heart, honest compassion. That causes a ripple far larger than the stone that hit the water. Peace . . .

  2. Problems must and can be solved by good management. People must be taught from childhood to think about love, solving problems and electing good people in all layers of government. Compassion alone will not eliminate mafia, drugs, terror, wars.

  3. I frequently have to remind myself that I cannot solve the worlds problems – I can only solve that which is in front of me and it is my small contributions that lend to bigger solutions. She was in front of you and you did the best with what you had on hand at the time – that is all that can be asked and it is far more than many would have done.

  4. Hello Rajiv, good morning from Tokyo.
    Your post is the first thing I’ve read today, and I completely agree with the other comments. I can also imagine the conflicted emotions you feel. The photo of the woman is seared in my memory and cannot be erased even if I try…

    I also wonder what can I do to try and contribute to this world. As an individual, I often feel powerless when it comes to the ‘big picture’ that the 1% elite seem to control with ease. It is maddening and frustrating. But then I realise, instead of obsessing over what I can’t do, I can focus on what I can. Even if it’s a small gesture of giving some change/coins to someone I feel needs it more than I do. As living beings, we all yearn for recognisation of our existence…at least that is how I feel.

    Wow, that’s enough rambling for one comment! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Good day to you and your family.

  5. The bone crushing poverty hits so hard and the powerlessness hurts. But the day we stop feeling, is the day we stop any attempt to do anything. Wish I knew what the answer was. Sigh. Thank you for sharing.

  6. I just came across a great quote by Mother Teresa, which I’d like to share here – ‘We can’t all do great things, but we can do small things with great love!’

  7. Doesn’t that happen a lot? There is such a huge divide wrt social well being in our country. It bothers me every single time when I pay for pizza or when I get a home delivery. We spend 400-500 bucks in one go, but when it comes to paying the vegetable vendors, we bargain for even a rupee! WTH!

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