In the name of illiteracy

Illiteracy is to do with numbers and letters. Not basic manners. Where I have come to visit my father at present,  there is not a day when our gatekeeper’s son, aged five or six, is not wailing at the top of his voice intermittently. His parents seem to care less. I don’t see the father busy with work.  He barely opens or closes the gate for most of the residents. The mother seems least interested other than the time when she has to feed her family or do the dishes. Upon discussing this annoying issue with my neighbour the other day, she shrugged it off by saying, “they are illiterate!” I have seen the parents and even the elder brother hitting the youngest son. It is as if they enjoy to hear him wail daily and endlessly. After nearly a month of ignoring this I finally took most of the family members to task today. The father was lucky to be not around. The mother was part-lucky to not to understand the language (as she speaks just the regional language and I can’t speak it) but she and the elder son understood what I was putting across them curtly. Like music needs no language, so does anger and the hurls that follow. The younger son quietened down in a few seconds. And as I write this I have not heard him wail since and it has been a few hours. Touchwood!

I am not against poor and uneducated children but playing the cards of poverty and illiteracy to gain sympathy of public is unfair. A few weeks ago a handful of poor kids (I am guessing they were above the age of 9-10 as per the picture I saw) accompanied by a social activist were denied entry to a popular restaurant in Delhi. In protest, the social worker sat outside the restaurant and returned the next day to continue with her protest. A lot of hue and cry was raised. The news had gone viral with many sharing it on the social media. A prominent minister of the Delhi government stated that the whole episode ‘reeked of colonialism.’ In defence, the restaurant said that the activist along with the kids were allowed the entry but were then asked to leave because of the ruckus the children were creating.  I don’t know what happened after that. The news, like any other hot local news, got relegated to the bottom of the newsfeed.

I don’t see what was wrong in asking the activist along with the kids to leave the restaurant. What did the activist want to prove and achieve? By taking these poor kids to the restaurant and making them experience what it is to eat food in the restaurant, how was she aspiring them? Ok, everything is not about aspirations and seriousness but would it not have helped if she had also taught or told the children how they should be behaving when they were in a restaurant. How difficult is it for kids  (above the age of 7-8) to understand the instructions (If they choose to ignore, that is different!) imparted to them especially on how to behave in public. If you cannot respect the decorum of a place you visit, you have no reason to protest – rich or poor. And that is why you have bouncers in the pubs – to control the customers from going berserk and even asking them to leave if things go beyond control. Rich or poor.

Again, I have nothing against the poor children but it does work me up when they start their begging pitch. They know exactly in which tone to beg and the kind of sorry face they have to put up. The moment they are done with you you can spot them looking natural. And they are back to their performance as soon as they spot some more potential people who can give them some alms.

The same boy, who wails endlessly, I caught him once sh**ting at the back of the apartment and when I called for the father he looked indifferent. What has literacy got to do with this? They have been given a bathroom to use. Why should I or anyone be subject to such a sight. It is not a village or some jungle where they can ease themselves off.

The ‘Swachch Bharat Abhyan’ (Clean India Mission) is a national drive by our government to keep the country clean by both rich and poor. You don’t need education or economic background to understand this. If keeping a place clean is considered understandable, so are basic manners and a consideration for others around you.

Again, I have nothing against poor children. I am against such lazy parents, guardians and social activists who refuse to bring up the children in their care properly. Add poverty to their social status and they think they can do anything that they feel like.

(And the boy hasn’t wailed still! Thank you!)


Poor Poorer Poorest


A few weeks ago, I, along with a benevolent friend of mine and my daughter were driving down the streets of my locality in search of 15 poor people to whom we could donate a blanket each. It is freezing cold at this time of the year in the capital region and I was in a charitable mood – not just to donate some loose change to the beggars like the other times, but something which I know would be useful. So a phone call to my ever-so-helpful friend culminated my somewhat generous thought into reality in a matter of two days. He said his usual, “ho jaayega” (it will be done) and so it had.

So here he was one evening after work in his car with colourful blankets stacked in his hatchback. My daughter and I hopped into the car and then started our journey. It was not easy. Despite having poor people all around us it was difficult to work out who was really “needy”. The time and day were also not apt. You find many beggars sitting outside the temples early mornings and evenings and on particular auspicious days of the week when they know the maximum number of devotees would turn up to the temple. So we went about looking for them on not a Tuesday or a Saturday and around the lean time of 4 pm. We began by going to a temple on the hillside by my house but couldn’t find any one there so moved on further. We crossed many streets and then spotted a poor woman with a baby sitting by the road selling some goods. I could see a twinkle in her eyes as she saw us stop the car and donate the blanket. And then we stopped by another temple and distributed eight more blankets to the beggars sitting outside.

Then it made us realize that donating the remaining six blankets was a Herculean task. My daughter kept fretting sitting at the backseat with having nothing to do. It was strange to be surrounded by so many poor people around us yet we were not able to find the ‘right’ people. You walk out of the house and you find the poor everywhere but finding the poorest (maybe I was looking for the homeless) was not easy. How do we figure out that this poor man is the poorest? An auto rickshaw driver is less poor than the manual rickshaw driver and may not need a mere blanket. I know of a particular auto rickshaw driver in my area who also has motorbike and by no mean looks in need of a blanket. But what about others I do not know of? And this is where ‘looks’ came in. And looks, rightly said so, can be deceptive. As it so happened on the same day.

We have 2 cobblers in our area and I donated to only one. I do feel bad now as I retrospect. After all, they both do the same kind of job and have the same kind of set up – a makeshift thatch on the corner of the roads. So why did I differentiate? While one cobbler is dressed up well the other is not. I felt uneasy offering a blanket to the well-dressed one. Would it not hurt his self -respect? His pride? So did it go against him to be respectfully dressed up despite being poor? Perhaps. We donated blankets to those who ‘looked’ very poor but what about those who are poor but don’t look or choose to look poor. So should the poor look poor to get some charity? Why do we have to be charitable to the able-bodied beggars who just sit outside the temples and not to those who get up and work and try to get some wage?

So in my quest for the poorest of the poor, I learnt how wrong I have been and going forward, I would look beyond the looks.

(image courtesy: