At a busy street corner, a fair distance from home, there are nearly always a bunch of street children hanging around, doing cartwheels for anyone who may want to tip them for it, coming around to the car windows and pressing their noses against the glass, shielding their eyes from the strong mid-morning sun and trying to peer in to gauge the possibility of getting some money.
Many years ago when the spot used to be part of my daily trudge to work in the centre of Delhi, I had become a known face. A young girl would always come up to have a chat about what she felt like eating on the day and I began carrying fruits for her. She wasn’t usually impressed by my wares – usually bananas or oranges – wanting chips or biscuits instead but was eventually satisfied if not pleased to take whatever it was I had.
Little T began noticing these children when she was about 2 years old and used to lunge and hide behind me or mum while wanting at the same time to take a peek.
When she was able to say what she wanted to – a couple of months ago – she asked what they were doing there, why their Mamma wasn’t around and why they weren’t wearing shoes.
I told her what I could and said there was no reason to duck and hide – that they meant no harm. She wasn’t entirely convinced but has tried since then to remain seated and more or less in the same position when the children come around asking for money.
One time, a particularly cheerful girl came by and nearly lunged her hand in to ask for money which absolutely terrified T. But when the little street girl noticed the effect what she had done had had on a fellow child (T) she cringed, tried hard to make eye contact with her and once she had coaxed T to look at her, broke into an impromptu jiggle to make T laugh.
For her sake, the lights didn’t change for a while or the row of cars in front of us didnt get to budge much keeping us stationary for quite a while. And it was only when this little girl saw T relax and smile back at her did she stop her theatrics, pleased to have broken a barrier, to have established between them the fact that she had meant no harm, especially not to T and that the two of them were after all, although separated so horribly and unfairly by so many privileges and inequalities, children first.
The memmory of that episde still brings a smile to my face – the series of expressions on that girl’s face – at first the embarrassment and sorrow for having turned off a child and then the glee and gratitude when the child she was trying to connect to yielded – and eventually generously – with the biggest smile.
In our daily race of living, it is so easy to not have the time to notice the special people children are. If only we could provide more and more of them the kind of space that that little anonymous girl on the street had created, by herself, for her and T, we would make this a better place for them and us.