Sunday, October 16, 2005

Invisible India

GK II and Alaknanda are among the posh colonies of south Delhi. Every house has cars, some have guards outside and the houses are big and beautiful. There is an army of invisible persons, running around like ants, opening doors, collecting refuse, cleaning cars, taking out the dogs to walks, cooking dinners, selling vegetables, repairing all kinds of things, etc. that holds up this world of well to do. If you stay here long enough, you stop seeing them too. I am here only for 5 days and I see them all around, these invisible Indians, with hope in their eyes, an occasional envy and a rarer anger.

***
I was at the Bookworm in Connaught Place, when I saw her. She must have been fifty. Slim, her eyes lined with kajal, her greying hair in a single plait, a tatty worn out purse in her hands. She seemed to be speaking to me. I looked around, I didn't know her. "Pagal hai saab", the boy at the bookshop told me.

"Buy me something", I think that is what she said, in English. "She is educated", the boy in the shop said. She started to dance, moving her hands gently, nodding at me, listening to the music coming from the shop next door.

I came out and she came forward, "Come on, buy me something. It is festival season, everybody is buying something, I also need to buy. I need some shoes. Look at these, these are completely worn out."

I was afraid of her and I hurried away.

"It is disgusting, every body can buy and I am left like this. No one to help me", she called after me.

While I walked away, I was talking to myself. Stupid. Why can't you help her? It is so little for you. Offer her an ice-cream, perhaps? I turned back, but she was gone.

***
I was in auto-rickshaw on Barakhamba road. The construction of metro line is going ahead furiously and the traffic moves in bits and pieces, getting stuck after every few meters. At one such stop, she came. Light blue sari, middle aged. "Please help me buy medicines for my child." She held a paper in her hand. "I am not a begger. I work here but I don't have enough money to buy medicines", she began to cry, "my child will die."

I gave her a ten rupee note. "It is not enough for buying medicines", she said,"I don't want money, help me buy the medicines for two days."

"That is all I have", I said, lying. 10 rupees is just 20 cents. May be I can ask her to come in autorickshaw and go to a chemist shop. The traffic starts moving and the auto moves. Her face streaked with tears looked at me.

***
At Purana Kila (old fort), there is a festival of dances called Ananya. Delhi's chief minister, Mrs. Shiela Dixit and a young minister, Mr Lovely are there. Birju Maharaj's troupe presents "kathak yatra" and the dancers include Saswati Sen. The dances, the lights and the backdrop of the old ruins is wonderful. Birju Maharaj must be seventy if not more, but in the end when he demsotrates a few steps of the mayur dance, he is transformed. It is a memorable evening.

***

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