This day metro isn’t so crowded and I get a seat toward the end of the coach. Two stoppages later a family boards the train. They have a couple of luggage bags. I vacate the seat for them. The woman reluctantly contemplates taking the seat as I insist. Men around focus on the opportunity if she refuses. She sits. The three children, who all seem 3-6 years old, slowly sit over the berth constructed of the bags. All these three sit with their backs to each other, all facing opposite directions. The man stands near the steel bar about a foot from the children, observing them. I take another look at the family - the man’s shirt is torn from places. Sensing my own unease, I hastily look at his feet. The shoes are okay, not worn out. I strangely feel as if this discovery is a consolation to my own blessings. I shift my sight. The kids are well-dressed in the clothes the parents could afford them, the woman seems to be wearing a new saree. I feel relieved that I have overcome the bout of sympathy that was starting to drain them of their pride. After a few stoppages, the space adjacent to where the kids sat is vacated. Their father walks slowly and approaches the children with a calm gaze as he sits on his haunches over the floorboard. From time to time he looks at his children with an affection that so conspicuously pours from his eyes. Suddenly the younger girl stands up and sits with her mother. A while later, she is making some waves in the air with her small hand when the father holds it gently in his palm, only to notice the prickly heat on her forearm. Expressions on his face immediately change. The composed man, in his forties, looks a worried and perplexed father now. He gestures to his wife but she just blinks once and keeps staring out of the glass across her sight, probably because she finds it too private a matter for the public space. Or probably because she finds it okay, because she herself isn’t used to such caring, after all. It is difficult, almost impossible, to know how to care if no one has ever been caring enough to you. Notwithstanding her indifference, he whispers again, only in vain. His quick glances travel from the mother to the girl’s hand and back to the mother repeatedly, more so in an apparently agonized manner with a helplessness that suggests he is making a secret magic wish, which he probably believes would instantly wipe out the cause of his distress. After looking apprehensively at the situation for a while, he gives up. I am certain he has not given up on his helplessness, but rather on the momentous vagueness that has crept in. A blankness covers the dark pupils of his eyes, his stare into some distant horizon becomes more un-involved, more alien to everything around. He might be devising a way to sort this out. His eyes seem dreamy now. Perhaps he is imagining their children as happy and healthy. I look at the eldest kid. She is looking up randomly at the sea of people. The boy is smiling at a piece of advertisement that he has got hold of, as if it is a toy someone dropped purposefully into the compartment. The youngest one has re-occupied herself with the air castles.
There is something about the unprivileged. Their faces, their gestures do not lie. As I walk out at my stoppage, I see two beggars by the pavement as I walk home. I feel so disgusted with my well-being. While we gloat in our lives as the privileged ones, as we transgress the lines of humanity through numerous excuses that serve our ubiquitous desires to fare far and better, haven’t we blindfolded our consciousness in order to be able to avoid looking into ourselves and facing the dilemma of the meaninglessness of our actions? That man there in his deep poverty and utter calm has ashamed me. He has ashamed my complaints, my complacency, my agonies. He has denounced my demons, my vices. His face and the sensitivity beneath it has made me bleed inside.
I would drink to it tonight. I will remember.