Encounters with street children in Gurgaon- Mar 5, 2012

So this is how the conversation went between this little street girl outside a Gurgaon market and me.

Child: Didi, paise de do, pen khareed lo [Sister, give me money, buy these pens]

Me: Pen to bacche ye acchhe nahi hote, par batao paise ka kya karogi? [Child, these pens are useless; tell me what you will do with the money?]

Child, instantly: Pichkari loongi! [I will buy a water pistol]

Me, having just done the rounds in the market: Pichkari to bahut paise ki aati hai. Wo to jut nahi paaenge. Kahin aur kharch ho jaayenge, hai na? [The water pistol would be too expensive. You will have to save money for it and that will get spent elsewhere, no?]

Child: To phir kuchh khila do! [Then give me something to eat!]

She smiled her lovely smile as the wonderful aroma of frying eggs filled her nostrils; the boy with her simply looked dazed!

Eventually, Rahul walked across to the little streetside shop and bought her and her tinier companion bread and double egg omelettes. We were struck by their spontaneity, honesty and complete lack of self-consciousness. They knew the best chance they had was to ask for what they really wanted and hope we were in a benevolent mood! We were rewarded with lovely smiles at the end of this, but I cannot stop thinking about what their lives must be like. I have seen this same girl child the past few years, from when she was rather little to now, when she is much more grown up and very confident. Denied of any form of security, with no access to education or opportunity, these kids stare into a future that is bleak. Yet, because they are kids, they can smile, be witty and spontaneous; you may argue that these are only survival skills, but I find it hard to believe all of it is put on.

The recently releases ‘The state of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World’ brought out by the United Nation’s Children’s Fund underlines the need to pay attention to children amongst the urban poor. What future are we talking about for our nation and our people if we let our children go hungry, get raped, remain illiterate and ensure their innocent smiling faces turn into those lined with bitterness, misery and hatred? I think this everyday and I wonder what more I can do to change things around me.

A few days ago, I watched this street kid painstakingly wash his muddy feet with less than a glass of water left in that plastic bottle. I have thought of that every time I ran the tap since! How little we value the resources we have!


About ramblinginthecity

I am an architect and urban planner, a writer and an aspiring artist. I love expressing myself and feel strongly that cities should have spaces for everyone--rich, poor, young, old, healthy and sick, happy or depressed--we all need to work towards making our cities liveable and lovable communities.

Posted on March 5, 2012, in Urban Planning & Policy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. The last picture is indeed quite haunting. And I’ve often wondered what you’ve discussed here. Can’t imagine how they maintain mischief, innocence, joy and all other emotions in the face of such bleakness.

  2. Thats a nerve you’ve touched there, Mukta. They may be the urban poor, but we are the urban confused. Not only do we not have a clue as to what to do about their lives and ours ( I understand what you mean by your comment in the second pic ), we unconsciously encourage our own kids to be confused as well. Everytime my kids ask me why they are poor or what we can do, my answer sounds vague, even to my own ears. Neeraj asks me to keep a packet of biscuits or bread every time we set out in the car, but I always forget and he is starting to forget too, seeing his mother’s apathy and inaction. Tell me, is that packet of biscuits enough ? Or the bread and double omelette ? Or those winter clothes we give away when we have excess and the time to do so.
    These kids have a hard life due to no fault of theirs, or ours. But we live a harder life, with all this apathy that we have learnt to live with. And it is our fault. Tell me, do we really need a “business plan”, a like minded group, funds, government backing, corporate sponsorships or a few thousand people to start a change ?
    Today as I was talking to a friend about the work we did in Ladakh and the project for rural education that we plan to start there, she was quite concerned about us putting all our eggs in one basket and picking up a project in such a remote area, where distances are huge, connectivity is a problem.. etc.etc. And all i had to say about that is if I start listing down all the problems, I would never get started and the work would never get done. The key, I told her, was to just start the work. Of course, it was easy to say, becuase I love Ladakh and the Ladakhis and because the rural Ladakhi is still quite untouched by “civilization”, “urbanization” and the likes and hence the work would be easier and more accepted.
    On the other hand, however, we have our “urban poor”, who we are convinced have brought it upon themselves, or have an organized mafia behind all the begging or other such reasons that we have found to fit our own philosophies, and hence we do nothing.
    This time, however, I want to do something, Its been on my head ever since we started our venture. These urban street kids deserve decent meals at least. Tall order, I know and honestly, I’m even scared to put this in print and feel stupid later if I can’t.

    But what the hell. Food shouldn’t be so hard to give, no ?

    – Sujata

    • Was discussing the exact same thing with Rahul. Soup kitchens sound simple, but there aren’t any around! In the West, charity is a very basic concept engrained into followers of the Christian faith. Recently, Harsh Mander documented that even Sikh and Christian institutions in Delhi have stopped feeding the homeless, reflecting the apathy of their congregations I suppose. What do you have in mind?

  3. A few thoughts. Lets talk sometime. Seriously.

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