– An orphan child’s open question to society
Words don’t come normally to me. It’s mostly a series of images flashing through my mind. Images and feelings. These troublesome feelings. I have only learned how to feel. I wasn’t taught how to express.
Ever since I could remember, I’ve found myself sitting here in the corner of this street. Ballard Estate, they say. I know very little about people, but I know that most of them are not like me. They whir past me in flocks every day, each as full of purpose as the next. Running. They are always in a hurry. Running to their liberation, while I wait here patiently for the confusion to dissipate. Few notice me. Some are kind. I’m given the occasional biscuit, a coin and perhaps a good wish.
I want to walk to where they are walking; see what they are seeing; think what they are thinking. I have even heard people can fly. Can they? Who will answer my questions? I cannot even move properly, nature has made sure of that. The kind chaiwallah, with a broken smile, once expectantly enquired, “Polio?”. He must have wanted an answer from me, but I didn’t know what to say. Is that what they call me? Is that who I am?
I see toddlers being nourished by adults. Sometimes, I see children flocking about- every one of them seems to be wearing the same colours. They shout they laugh, they play. Someone must have told them the secret to happiness. Given them direction. Warned them of what is important and what is not. Who do they speak to? They must know everything. Can they help me manage a smile or two?
Hunger grips me before I can think much further. It is a menace. I feel jealous of this cat I often see here. Strutting about in all its health. It looks satisfied and driven. I feel jealous. It’s allowed to live off the land. I know very little, but I know this- humans cannot live off the land. An apple I picked up the other day belonged to someone’s garden. They own that earth, and I was beaten. “Thief!”, they shouted, perhaps at me. I never picked up anything again. Both Nature and human can inflict a great deal of pain. I have no choice or control over the former. I make attempts with the latter.
I have learned that you can get that apple in exchange for these coins. Where can you get these? I manage to get a few from people every day. But surely, this cannot be the only way? There must be a place where you get many of these from. They seem to be having a lot of it. Where are they getting it from? Everybody is in a hurry. No one looks at me twice. No one tells me where they are going. No one tells me the means to secure them. Do they really have no time? Will they watch me die? I heard someone say, “Go to school.” I need more coins for that. I need an identity first.
But I still need these coins. If I had my legs, I would risk being called the thief. At least I could snatch my meals and run away. Far, far away. Where I can buy the right to a clear mind. Where I can think beyond the prospects of my next meal. Where I know what it means to be human.
Can anybody tell me the well-kept secret to survival in this society?
I hear “government” and “justice”. Something tells me it has something to do with me. I’ll ask the chaiwallah tomorrow. Maybe he can help.
Have you ever wondered about the kind of a society we have built? Capitalism is founded on the celebrated pretext of freedom. There is a limited amount of resources in this world and apparently, capitalism and democracy are said to ensure the doctrine of meritocracy- where everybody has the opportunity to own any amount of resources with their effort and merit. We should not forget that this entails that nothing, even in the bare minimum, is guaranteed to members of our society. What about the people who do not have the means to nourish merit, and have no control over such plight? Who are not as astute as the next person, or worse yet, the people who are disabled and poor? Who are cut off from the very access to the means of an enlightened or informed living by nature or their circumstance? How can they fend for themselves? The disabled orphan on the street has no means or guidance to imbibe the realities of sustenance. They cannot fend for themselves and are destined to beg or die. Is this justice? You can allow a few persons to own the resources of the entire world, but you cannot ensure that everyone else has free access to the means of a dignified living? If the government does not guarantee parity in ownership of resources, can it, in the least, not guarantee that its disadvantaged members will not be left for dead? A little bit of empowerment is in order. We often forget that ever since the day we have hoisted the flag of capitalism in modern society- we have created competition and in turn, poverty. We create crime. While the social system has its perks for progress, we should accommodate a few changes to rid it of the barbarism it allows. If nothing, the taxpayers’ funds should to some degree be routed towards minimal social welfare schemes which guarantee sustenance for the critically weak.
Sanlap Roy is an advocate currently pursuing a career in civil litigation in Mumbai, India.