March 15, 2010

One day on the train

Selected notes from a recent Chennai-Bombay train journey, straight from my diary.

0933, Renigunta station: Bald man comes through, begging.

0935, Renigunta station: Thin old man comes through, begging. His left arm looks like a 6-inch segment between the shoulder and the elbow has been removed, and the rest of the arm re-attached. It is short and crooked.

1002: Oddly bent and gaping young man comes through, begging.

1044: Old woman comes through, begging.

1113: Thin blind boy, 20 or less, comes through, begging. His grubby shirt says "Elegant Design".

1217, just left Yerraguntla: Pregnant young woman comes through, begging. Behind her, a small child, indeterminate sex, tapping my knee and pointing to the small container of dahi on my lunch tray.

1223: Old woman comes through, begging. Orange sari, pink blouse, lined poker face. Her chappals are polka dotted.

1237: Bald old man with glasses comes through, begging.

1306: Slim woman comes through, begging. Her face has been burned, so she looks like her skin has been stretched over her skull. Behind her is a man with one arm, wearing a brown shirt and green checked dhoti.

1330: Woman comes through on her haunches, sweeping the floor and begging. She wears a pink sari, has a red band in her hair and has an oddly masculine face.

1459, Guntakal station: Old man comes through, begging. He has lost one leg and is on crutches.

1541: Young woman comes through on her haunches, sweeping the floor and begging. She has a thin, sad face.

1624: Old man comes through, begging. He has the arms and hands of a child, the hands where his elbows should be.

1646: Boy with curly hair comes through on his haunches, sweeping the floor and begging. He is bare-chested and covered with dust, and uses his shirt to clean the floor.

1802: Woman comes through, begging. She wears a dark blue sari, carries a baby in a sling and a baby bottle in her hand.

1833: Boy about 10 years old comes through on his haunches, sweeping the floor and begging. His upper body is thin and bare. He uses his shirt to clean the floor.

1949: Woman in a burkha comes through, begging. She has one kid sleeping on her shoulder, his bottom overflowing over her arm. Behind her trails another kid with a tear-lined face, crying softly.


Anonymous said...

What is your point? This post seems gratuitous. You are shocked, shocked to find out begging is going on here? How did you help each of then and their ilk? Anon2020

Dilip D'Souza said...

What I'm shocked by is how inured I am to this.

How I helped them or not is -- as always -- something I choose to keep to myself.

Dev said...

If I was a foreigner, I would have thought just two words -

But I know that is not the case.
There are so many instances of timeline you have shown, which have not been written about and would have come up with some much more interesting and positive images.

Suresh said...


Thanks for this.

Yes, you do get inured. It only strikes you as unusual when you go abroad and then come back. I think it is fair to say that the type of poverty scenes that we see in India is particular to India. Many other countries have deprivation too but I don't think they have the grotesque (I can't think of any other word) scenes that we see in India, especially traveling by rail.

I don't know why this should be the case. It bothers me. My sister who works in the social sector tells me that there is a well-run mafia in begging which involves, among other things, children being kidnapped and deliberately maimed. Perhaps but that only deepens the puzzle - why can't we summon the political will to do something about it? Doesn't it bother us?

It is tempting to invoke the caste system but I don't like to invoke that as an explanation primarily because of its overuse. (Everything undesirable is due to the caste system.) But then may be, that is the only explanation.