On a low-floor Delhi Transport Corporation bus, returning from an exhausting day in theoffice, I found two families sitting on either side of my seat. The difference between these two families was the difference that divides India into two parts — the rich and the poor.
The woman on the right side wore a gilded sari with all matching accessories. She looked attractive and adjusted her watch ostentatiously. Her husband, sitting beside her, was wrapped in swanky apparel, reflecting an opulent lifestyle. They had a five-year old son sitting by the window seat eating a pack of wafers. He was rotund, his spectacles covering most of his face.
The family sitting on the other side was evidently impecunious, with both man and wife in grimy clothes. The man was talking over the phone so loudly that his voice was audible to everyone on the bus. Their five-year-old, skinny daughter in her frock sat on her father’s lap trying to re-attach the broken hand of an old doll. She looked dull and pale, her hair scattered all over. Their attire reflected their deprived lifestyle.
My eyes rolled over the boy who was shrieking and shouting at his father, demanding his smartphone to play
games. His father immediately handed it over to him. The boy turned his attention to the phone and threw his packet of wafers to his mother.
The little girl, who had not succeeded in assembling her doll’s hand, started staring at the boy silently. The boy was squealing, demanding everything he fancied — from the toy car in his mother’s spiffy handbag to the chocolate in his father’s pocket. His desires kept increasing and his parents were giving in with no reluctance.
The indigent girl was trying to brush aside the boy but her eyes didn’t permit that. She hugged her father, immersing her head on his chest as if to kill her desires. Her father empathised with her. He tried to cheer her up by giving her his old phone to play that archaic snake game. The girl toyed with the snake but kept looking at the subway surfers playing on the boy’s smart phone. She was not demanding anything.
The difference between the sumptuousness of the boy and the destitution of the girl was simply striking. But I kept wondering how a girl of her age would understand that her parents can’t afford luxury. Why she does not long for and insist on the same things the boy has. How does she understand that they cannot match their neighbour’s status? How children understand automatically that they are impoverished or wealthy. How the girl knows she has to bury all her desires. These questions keep revolving in my mind, and I am still hunting for the answers.
Story by PANKAJ HALSI