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Flash fiction: A proud street urchin
I'd just finished the last bite of my anti-sugar veg sandwich, gulped the last drop of sugar-free tea with dregs of tea-leaves, allowed the specks to explore every available space inside the hidden territories of my mouth with the help of my tongue and spitted them out expecting some tranquility of mind and space. It was now the time for headlines of that day's newspaper.

Not really. A gentle knock at the door heralded the arrival of unsolicited guest - a burqa-clad lady ducked in with a child. The baby didn’t seem to be past more than six or seven springs. She said she was widowed and dislocated very recently. She had left her home turf or mountains to survive in plains. That was her story in the nutshell. She called me Hajiji and asked for help.

“We come across many needy-looking hapless individuals and it is difficult for me to distinguish between a fake and a genuine….. How do I know the veracity of your statement?” I could detect the dew drops of shame, glistened behind the veil. They appeared at its edge and vanished under her chin. “No…., I’m the proof and this child is my proof. I’ve nothing to put as proof further…..may I go Hajiji ?”

“What is your name ?” She said Taskeena, a widow, looking for survival in the planes, a strange land for the people used to live in mountains. I felt she was genuine and helped her with the limited amount that was affordable. She left with blessing “Allah apko khush rakhe (May God keep you happy).

Now, it was the time again to get connected with the world which is not far flung and directly or indirectly affecting my life - through today’s newspaper. An insipid editorial and then an article which began the next page: Don’t feed the Gators!” It was a retrieval of a story about an old welfare reform debate in US. “If we feed them, wild wolves become dependent.” Comparing the poor to wild animals, these legislators continued our political lurch back to a time when poverty was blamed on inferior human beings and not on the flawed political economy of society.

It’s a neat trick, this willful innocence that hides the truth: that poverty’s problems are a result of political choices made by the rich and the powerful that further impoverish the poor. The iron fist of power always needs a velvet glove of persuasion - the drapery of a justifying philosophy to legitimate the dominance of wealth over want. This need explains diatribes about the brutality of gators, the dependency of wolves, the pathology of the poor and the virtue of the wealthy. Such theories argue that poverty is a fact of nature and results from the pathology of the weak, thus undercutting claims for collective obligation to design a better society.

That reminded me of a sentence I had read a few days back in another magazine - “When the Congressmen came to power after freedom, every hungry militant was called a Communist. When Communists came to power in some states and still kept many people starving, these poor men were called Naxalites."

In 1969, addressing a conference of voluntary agencies at New Delhi, the Lok Nayak Babu Jayaprakash Narayan had said, “I’ve every sympathy for Naxalite people. They are violent people. But I have every sympathy for them because they are doing something for the poor….If the law is unable to give the people a modicum of social and economic justice…what do you think will happen if not violence erupting all over?”

From Naxalism let us switch to Islamic extremism. It is linked to the recent rise in international terrorism but the history of Christianity is every bit as blood-drenched as the history of Islam. Gujarat didn’t portray a rosy picture of Hinduism. Cambodia and Pol-Pot are built on human skulls and Buddhism failed to solve the miseries of South Asia.

My God, please I don’t need the doctrines that persuade me to hate my fellow creatures. I threw the newspaper aside and went out in search of the new Gandhi of my dreams. He was there, just very near to the garbage heap abutting my locality. He is a very common figure in the morning silhouette of this landscape. “A gunny bag hooked to his shoulder and a scrawny body that seemed to disappear under his rugged-giant misfit T-shirt. He was busier than bee in sorting over the bulging throwaway plastic bags there. Perhaps he was hungry. I called him near.

“Did you take your breakfast?” He gave a cynical sardonic smile to me as if I was a source of disturbance in his efforts to survive. “What’s breakfast?”

There is an unimaginably wide gap between haves and have-nots. I took out a couple of tenors from my pocket, tried to put at his palm and asked him to spend the way he wants. He pulls his hand, raises his face in bewilderment. He is surprised. "Why should you give me this ?" There was resignation to his fate. He works hard not begs. The watery garlands appeared in his eyes and ran on either side. They met at his chin and plopped down on the collar-bone of his shoulder. Surprising he was unwilling to accept this token of magnanimity. He comes near and moves back. No thanks! There he goes.

My eyes darted down with him as he reached the signal that was red. He paddled barefoot between the stopped cars, his body reaching out only halfway up the windows. I was wondering if one day he would become a Naxalite or the Gandhi of my dreams, Where is Arundhati Roy? Where is Khalil Gibran. Perhaps they would be able to tell better.

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