I was alone and was going through a phase of ideological crisis in life. And it is widely know when you are exhausted in a mega-city battle; the heart craves for small town social ideologies and niceties. Though Utopian they make you feel good about yourself.
I dreamt of equality for everyone, while enjoying the comforts my education brought to me, I cherished the dreams of no slums, good education and income for everyone, while deciding on which income funds to invest in to get maximum returns for funding my early retirement.
I knew I was the paradoxical educated Indian young man that fruits of economic liberalization have produced. Men and women like me have tasted the fruit and in their heart wish to give back, but in a free economy which churns out constant growth and social changes, equality is the last word. It makes everyone wealthy, but the magnitude varies and it never lets you unwind, because the constant asset bubble and inflationary pressure keeps you on tenterhooks.
These thoughts were crossing my mind every day, when something was going to happen in my life.
It was a dark, rainy night in Mumbai. Trains were late. After two hours of drudgery between Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, I reached the station of this satellite town, where I live. It was about eleven in the night; I was hungry and feeling a little feverish and had no intention to cook at home.
Hence I went to one of the Udupi inspired south Indian restaurants inside the station compound to have Masla Dosa, Vada-pav and cutting chai. Engrossed in the ideological crisis I was sipping the sambhar soup, when suddenly I discovered a tiny, chubby baby doused in dirt and rain caressing my feet. That sudden moment I felt a rush emotions in my faltering body and picked her up with all compassion. I looked around and found no one claiming the baby.
Not older than two years, this baby was weeping silently and had hunger in her eyes. She wanted the food and I was more than happy to see her having the food. My chest was swelling with motherly affection and everything seemed so superhuman at that moment. Just when all seemed at peace, the trouble began.
A group of restaurant employees came charging and took the baby away from me and threw the Bada-pav from her hands. While I fought with the employees, she licked her hands furiously to have the last trace of food in her tiny fingers. I was angry and frustrated and wanted to see the baby having her food.
But they took her outside the restaurant premises and threw her to a dilapidated young woman who seems to be in her late teens, may be her mother. I ran after them wishing to buy them food and forget the hunger in their eyes. But the woman ran faster with her kid. And soon they slipped into the labyrinth of the nearest slum to the station in the dark of night.
I was exhausted and lost. I looked back at the restaurant with a wish of burning it down. Not possible. I laughed at my naïve citybred socialism. But my heart cried loudly for the helplessness.
I walked three kilometers back to home with utter discomfort; getting drenched and being barked at by dogs on the way seemed a perfect way to punish my discontented heart. I couldn’t sleep and tried to watch ‘The Simpsons’ and 'How I Met Your Mother', expecting to lighten my mood. But that didn’t work.
I read Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ to get into further depression with the lonely, dark and windy moors of English countryside. I listened to the supposedly hilarious and foot tapping number ‘ni woofer tu meri main tera amplifier’, just to get over the sadness, but it also sounded so melancholic this time. The hunger in the child’s eyes haunted me and it still haunts, whenever I eat good food alone in a restaurant.
(Photo courtesy: Sandeep Malkania, Delhi)