As Mylapore embraced a swarm of people during the two week-long Panguni festival, there I was, seated in an auto right behind the Kapaleeshwarar temple, surrounded by vehicles in what seemed like a 500-piece puzzle jam. The first few minutes passed in an oblivion, as I listened Chris Martin (from Coldplay), sing about a girl who dreamt of a Paradise. As time passed, I couldn’t help but come back to reality and look around to see how long more I had to wait to get home.
That’s when I noticed a house. It wasn’t a tastefully decorated one. Neither was it one of those sophisticated high rise apartments. It was probably less than a 10/10 space, with a chipped wooden door and dry palm leaves for a roof. Inside, there was a small wooden bed, a handful of aluminium vessels neatly stacked up in one corner, a single stove and a three and a half legged plastic chair. In all, as meagre a living as could be. I thought to myself, if the occupants had to give directions to their home, they’d say, lookout for the poster of MGR’s Aayirathil Oruvan stuck on the wall of our house, and inside, of people filled with warmth and selflessness.
Here’s why I said this. Moments later, an old man appeared beside the auto I was seated in, and held his hand out. Instinctively I took out a Rs. 5 coin and placed it on his palm. Just then, a woman, with unkempt hair and loosely clad clothes, walked out of the house and handed him a plate of rice. It took a while for me to realise that the woman whose house I was looking into was my maid’s.
The next day, when she came home to do her daily chores, I had so many things to ask her; don’t you often say that you have enough money to eat just once a day? Don’t you have the responsibility of educating two daughters? Doesn’t your husband demand a chunk of what you earn, to drink? Why then did you give away the last morsel of food you had stored for the night?
She looked at me, and said without asking, “Often, for some of us, the question is not of earning money, because we are hardly allowed to enter a hotel and pay for the food. Rather, it’s about finding a way, any way, to curb that deathly pain when hunger strikes, and living to see another day. All this, in the hope that tomorrow, it will be a better day.”
And, I just stood there, ashamed at having handed out money to the old man, instead of asking him how I can help him.