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Hi diary Thurs 28th Dec 2006
Today, Joanne, Kenneth and I went to Big Bazaar/High Street Phoenix at Lower Parel, and it was like a big shopping mall. One thing unique/strange in India is that in those big shops like the supermarket in Big Bazaar or like Mango etc, bags are not allowed inside so we have to deposit our bags at the bag counters. It feels quite troublesome to me though.
When we go to big shopping malls too, we have to pass through a detector as well, and perhaps a bag search, probably to see whether we are harboring bombs. Looks like India is quite alert about the threat of terrorism man. After shopping around, we went to Barista, a coffee joint not unlike Starbucks, just that it was much cheaper.
I ordered a swiss mocha frappe and it was delicious! We ate Subway for lunch, (probably the last Subway for 6 months and counting) and for dinner, we ate at this really really good steakhouse called Kobe Sizzlers. The portion was damn generous and Joanne and I shared a plate of sizzling steak, mushroom and cheese vegetable. Superb I tell you. There is NO way I’ll ever EVER grow skinny in India.
Just across the street from the Big Bazaar, there was a row of houses where the poor live. The houses were just beside the road, so there were flies buzzing outside the rows of houses, and it was really dusty. The houses were quite small and shoddy, although in some of the houses, you could see television sets so I guess they might not be that poor after all.
Ken and I took some pictures over there and the people were really friendly although we spoke no common language. The kids and adults alike were fascinated when we took photographs of them and showed them their likeness captured on the digital cameras. Such a simple joy that we Singaporeans in our busy lives take for granted yeah?
three people. three expressions. one great pic (at least i like it okie! except for the towel lah)
i was taking pic along the rows of houses when this girl ran to her house, and came out taking her santa claus. it was ard christmas then
After dinner, we headed home on a cab, which cost 150 rupees ($6). The drive was smooth as the cabby cut corners as usual. Along one of the traffic lights though, there was this woman on the road, carrying a baby asking for money from the passengers on cabs. After a passenger from a cab diagonally in front of our cab refused her attempts, she came to our cab, and pleaded for money.
As usual, we said no and she just went on softly in Tamil or Hindi asking for money. The lights had not turn green and she continued standing outside the cab. A first I looked right ahead, ignoring her pleas. There are so many beggars in India that after a while, one just becomes desensitized to the poverty around oneself.
But hearing her, I turned to look at her and her baby and that image is burning in my head right now. I totally understand the strength and power of Walter Lippmann’s images in one’s head. Her hair was unkempt and untidily tied, and she looked dirty and dusty from standing by the road. Carrying a baby on her skinny frame, she had dull, pleading eyes that cried a mixture of defeat and acceptance.
In contrast, her baby was quite plump, and looked absolutely adorable. The baby had bright gleaming eyes that seems to me, so full of youthful ignorance, bliss and hope for the future. It was as if the baby and her mother belonged to 2 different worlds. One so full of youthful exuberance and one dulled by the ravages of time and cruelty of reality.
Struck for a moment by the strength of the image before me, the voice of the pleading mother, I looked away and looked ahead, turning into an automated mode of “don’t look at them, don’t give money”. And then the cab drove on.
And yet, the image lingers.
I don’t know how I really feel about the poverty in India. When I look on as a third party in front of a television screen in Singapore, I would think, “oh my… poor things, how can I ever bear to live such a simple life? Luckily I am in Singapore and do not need to experience such poverty.” This is however, a different feeling from roaming the streets in India, and seeing the poverty first hand.
But as I have said earlier, one becomes desensitized to such scenes as they are common. They might just reach out a hand, hoping for some kind souls to put some money in their palms, and I walk past so many of them that honestly, I don’t feel bad at all anymore.
And yet, today was entirely different. I never really looked at them or looked into their eyes the way I did today. Oculesics, that is communication by eyes right? I felt the silent strength of such communication today. The lady’s haunting empty eyes and that of her baby’s bright unknowing eyes.
And yet, I didn’t donate. Argh! I keep thinking I should you know, but now it is too late. I should have just handed her a ten rupee bill. It’s not much and yet I didn’t do that. It’s not much and yet it would probably mean a lot to her. I just feel so guilty now, thinking about the tens or hundreds I spent on food today and not donating a single cent to her.
I don’t know what I should do. I guess logically, what is needed are not individual acts of charity but a system haul as I have previously mentioned in a more objective, clinical post. When one touches the human side of poverty though, instead of looking on as a passer-by on the streets of India but communicates with poverty as I have today, it is hard to extricate the tangled emotions that ensues as a result from the act of handling poverty itself.
I know that giving money to the lady today would help her out, but I also know that there are hundreds and thousands and millions more out there on the streets who need an act of kindness just as much, or maybe even more. Okies I guess giving voice to my thoughts has somewhat lessened the feelings of guilt and I shan’t dwell on it any longer.
Well to those I love in Singapore, cherish what you have, although it doesn’t in any way mean that you shouldn’t strive for more.