The traffic signal ahead turns red and I slowly ease my car to a halt, squeezing it in the gap between two other cars. My car window is generally up, mostly to avoid the dust and smoke in the roads of Bangalore. It also helps avoid bothersome hawkers, groping eunuchs and old women with crying babies. But tonight it is down and before I know it, there is a kid beside my car, with a bamboo basket full of what can only be described as plastic junk. He says ‘Anna, 10 rupees only. Will you please buy one?’
My first instinct is to pull up my car window. After years of driving on Bangalore’s roads, I had pretty much become inured to such sights and had taught myself to ignore such things. I generally persuade myself with the usual arguments – ‘Of course the crying baby clinging to her neck is rented’, ‘I don’t want to encourage begging’, ‘This crossing is so busy, this woman makes enough money to manage a savings account in the bank across the street’ etc. But something about the little kid peering expectantly at me stops my hand.
The boy seems to be around 5-6 years old and the first thing I notice is his grotesque lips split till his chin leaving his disfigured for life. There is a misty glaze in his eyes that shouts out that he does not belong to streets. Perhaps he wants to go home. I wish that he has one and somebody to take care of him. But I know there is nobody since the kid would not be hawking toys in the streets at night if somebody really cared about him.
In spite of my refusal, he continues to plead. ‘Please anna, it’s only 10 rupees’. I think that maybe he has a ‘pimp’ who would beat later him until he handed over all the day’s earnings or else maybe he has not yet sold his quota of toys for the day, which could explain what he was doing in the street at 9 in the night. But one thing I know for sure. The kid led a tough life; one that folks like me in air conditioned cars cannot understand or seldom bother to. I empty all the change in my wallet into his outstretched hands and even refuse the plastic toy that he hands me in return.
I know that the kid will probably not get to keep the money. All I could hope to do is give him ‘hope’. I look into his eyes and give him a gentle and reassuring smile as if to say ‘Everything will be fine kiddo’. His response to the smile shatters what little hope I harbor for the little boy. There is none. Perhaps both of us know that my smile serves no purpose and does little to alter his predicament. As if on cue, the traffic signal turns green. He seems ready to burst into tears at any moment. But instead just turns his head away from me and hurries along to the pavement, anxiously waiting for the signal to turn red again.