Slavery does not merely mean a legalised form of subjection.
It means a state of society in which some men are forced to accept from others the purposes which control their conduct.B.R. Ambedkar
My sister and I went for a walk today. I suggested it because I really felt like going out of the house, it became an immediate need for me. My sister took all the time in the world to get out of the house, as always. So we both wore our masks and strolled outside for a while. I saw cars outside, lot of cars actually which was now unusual for me but I guess while I hid in my hole, the world came alive despite the deadly virus. This is the new normal I was reading about! Everyone wears a mask now. You just see eyes everywhere, eyes on you. As if I didn’t get enough attention if I went outside, but the eyes now are tired and mostly running away. Rushing back home, finding new home, scared and paranoid.
Both of us clicked some pictures of the beautiful trees. Yellow, pink, white, gold all colours. Later we bumped into a man, he was carrying a bag on his shoulder and an empty water bottle. He stopped to talk to us, asking for directions. Now I haven’t lived in Jaipur long enough to know the ways around, so I immediately felt helpless. Looking at his state( clothes all dirty and worn out); lean body, wrinkled face, it felt like he couldn’t take the weight of his own body anymore. He told us that he was on his way to meet his daughter who is almost our age. When he started talking about his daughter his voice cracked, I could sense the pain in his eyes. He was wearing a mask so his eyes were my only way through to him, to figure out this strange man standing in front of me. He was no longer strange to me, I wanted to tell him I understand your pain, or at least I want to, let me help you. I opened my phone to get directions and it turns out it was going to take him a long time before he reached home to his daughter. I asked him “ how will you walk this far?” He answered, “I don’t have any other way to reach her, and I have been walking all this while from kota so I guess I will”. It crushed my heart to hear him say those words and later when he told me that he hasn’t taken a shower in a few days and when people look at him they find him repulsive. They denied him water at first and it costs him 10rs to access free water. It reminded me of parasite, and the dehumanisation of the poor. How the rich often think to themselves “why are they walking on the highway, why do they want to go back to their village NOW?” “stay put goddamnit” “inko bas mehnat nahi karni” “natak karte hai bhagwan ne haath pair diye hai kaam karo” Acha chalo bhagwan ne haath pair diye par hum insaano ne corona virus se pehle hi tey kar liya tha kiske haath gande hai aur kiske saaf. In short what they mean is “ why do they CHOOSE to be poor”
I am also reminded of “The illusion of choice”, as read in a tweet from varun grover. Coming back to the helpless man I met, we were able to guide him further and we wished him good luck, although it felt useless to wish him luck and almost funny. By now, another man on a bike stopped right before us to ask for directions, it felt like a endless thing, people are lost, they need help. I realised a lot of these people are just passing through jaipur, a completely new city for them, just to get home. While we were engaged with the man on the bike, our friend from before gave us his blessings and before turning his back on us, hesitantly asked for change, a one rupee coin to be precise. I didn’t bring my wallet with me and neither did my sister. But as it turns out, before leaving the house I decided to carry money with me to buy cigarettes. I gave him all the money I had, he denied at first but I told him I was on my way to waste this money so you should keep it. That’s the last I saw of him, I did look back to see him once more and he was walking weird, like his legs are angry with him and wants to detach from his body and run away, as a testament of how unkind and dismissive the world around him is.
Later, my sister told me it was nice of me to give him all the money, but to be honest I felt horrible inside. The same houses I was admiring during the walk, I felt disgusted by them. I started thinking about my privilege and how conviniently I will choose to feel bad rn and might forget about this later. But the thought is not leaving me. I tried. My sister mentioned during our conversation about the incident that maybe the man was lying. Now this is also a recurrent thought in everybody’s mind, I am aware of that. Like “What if the man is fooling us?” “Trying to gain sympathy?” I feel we all have become unkind to each other and there is a strong force at play, teaching us how to hate, and to speak my truth, I don’t really care if he were lying, there was truth in his existence and I saw it. I saw his helpless body and his tired mind. I don’t care if he was on his way to meet his daughter or not, I know that he is headed somewhere, probably because he didn’t feel at home at the previous place or probably because he doesn’t want to die in the state he was, probably because he is tired of being poor and probably because this is not how he imagined his life to be. Something forced him to start walking day and night.
I took a walk out of choice, and I know my way back to a comfortable bed. I will try to keep his face stored inside me, I regretted not asking him his name. I regret a lot of things, honestly. My job has just begun though. I don’t want to be still surprised at the injustices in the world. That takes the movement a step back. It’s a privilege to be surprised at the atrocities of the marginalized groups. And honestly, just conveniently ignorant. I need to be bringing the change I want to see around me, little by little and by staying strong and taking help from the resilience of the man I saw today. There are millions of stories like him but I guess I had to meet him today to remind myself I live in the real world and yet I can skip through a lot of difficulties because of my birth into a privileged home. You will be remembered, my friend! and I hope you reach home safely. I promise to be more accountable and responsible for my actions.