Permanent trials of nomadic lives

I find that I have never been able to guess the age of someone from the Narikuravar community. Their skin is a lovely brown and their face remains unblemished, making me think Nature took a break and decided to be kind for a moment, in light of other tragedies that constantly visit these gypsy people. I look elsewhere, because I do not want to glance at the beads they sell and then decline to buy any. I watch them beg at traffic signals and on pavements along the beach, only to ignore them. I turn them away when they offer to reveal the happiness that my future holds for me, because I do not know how much to give them. How much is enough? Is it ever enough? I feel small, and I want to be invisible, without a thought for those who have forever remained hidden in the frayed seams of society’s fabric.

One day, there were no escape routes. As I stood in that vacant manner of one whose thumbs are so used to punching at a smartphone, I saw before me a young woman with a baby hanging from her chest, its bottom straining against the thin cloth she’d wrapped it in. A girl, rather, with breasts so small and a waist that looked fragile, perfect teeth as if her childhood was punctuated by visits to the dentist, short and beautiful. The baby sucked on a piece of plastic, while she wordlessly offered her hand from which were hanging several necklaces of beads. I shook my head. Vendam. She wouldn’t leave. I opened my wallet and noticed I had a two-thousand rupee note, nothing else. She’d seen my wallet, my bag, my water bottle, and I’d refused to buy, refused to give money. I wasn’t willing to part with my two-thousand rupees, and I absolved myself of any guilt instantly. Really now, I couldn’t give her that much, even if she had a baby that was trying to eat plastic, even if she’ll never sell enough beads to make a living.

Maybe I didn’t absolve myself completely. I walked away but I wasn’t able to leave. I went inside a store and bought some snacks. I looked for her and gave her some of the change I received, not a lot, just a little to make myself feel better, all the while thinking that even giving is about myself now. To relieve me of the tightening in my chest, to allow myself to feel better the next time I pretend to be blind. I gave the child a snack. She stared at me and disappeared into the crowd.

I sat on the platform and felt the tears pooling in my eyes, for being a selfish individual, for the privilege I possess, for the suffering that will never end after generations and generations, for the women who always have it worse than the men, and for everything I choose to ignore.

KEY:

Narikuravar: A nomadic tribe found in Tamil Nadu, a South Indian state. Pushed out of the forests they once called home, they now wander the cities trying to make a living from selling beaded ornaments and fortune-telling.



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17 thoughts on “Permanent trials of nomadic lives

  1. I remember that a child reached out to a munch I held in my hand and I gave it to him.

    I also refused to give away cash and bought a packet of idiappam for a girl with a child. She refused and wanted cash. I was suspicious as if she was hungry, the idiappam will be ideal what with the soft bland ricey carbs it contains. Is she forced by someone who had told her not to accept food and insist on cash? I told her I could not give anything other than that packet and she finally got it.

    In the movie “Pichaikaran” one of the protagonist’s beggar mentors advices him to be as dirty as possible. “Ivunga thara 5 roobaikku nammakku rendu kannum irukka koodathu nu edhirpaapanga”, he says and he is right of course. BUT why should we part with out cash for people just because they say “Amma”?

    I used to adhere strictly to the “No alms” policy. Now I sometimes relent. Why? Sometimes it feels that it is the right thing to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stunningly honest post that was, needless to say, very well-written too. This reminds of Parthiban’s line on helping the needy – “avangaluku meenuku badhila oru thoondil tharradhu thaan mukhyam.” Again, that sounds nice in concept but tough to execute without having an organized manner. But it’s really nice that you chose to be answerable to your conscience and acted upon an impulse that was noble in intent.

    As for your writing, here’re two word choices that were lovely:

    “…for those who have forever remained hidden in the frayed seams of society’s fabric.”

    “…as if her childhood was punctuated by visits to the dentist, short and beautiful.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is usually such a confusing situation and ends up making me feel really small. I want to help them, but I know that giving money is actually going to make things worse. Then there are times when the snacks I offered have been refused!
    But I sent my parents an article a while back and they have started following something from there. Since we try and help a lot of stray dogs as well, my folks carry small parle g packets in the car. They give them to the kids selling stuff, and to hungry dogs around.

    Like

  4. There are so many beautiful images here, but this may be my favorite: “How much is enough? Is it ever enough? I feel small, and I want to be invisible, without a thought for those who have forever remained hidden in the frayed seams of society’s fabric.” You have a lovely way with words.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ‘…all the while thinking that even giving is about myself now’. Completely sums up my feelings in such situations. Is it the right way to help, is it helping enough? Really beautifully written. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I loved the line: “without a thought for those who have forever remained hidden in the frayed seams of society’s fabric”. That was powerful. I also enjoyed your honesty. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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