Monday 21 July 2008

Poverty amongst email

I'm back from Delhi and feel drugged. I don't know if it's jet-lag or going from 100 percent humidity to the UK weather, but I can't seem to wake up properly.

That said, I wanted to write up one of my last experiences in Delhi as it affected me and I haven't stopped thinking about it.

It's a humid, stale, dank Thursday and I am trying to get to a shop I've been recommended.

Sitting in the back of a rusty 3 wheel motorised tuk tuck with a non English speaking driver on huge 4 lane motorways is a scary experience. You're basically in a motorised wheelbarrow with lorries up your rear.

We stop. I am exposed. Two tiny, skin and bone kids approach me.

They are wearing floppy hats with a spinning top on so that when they shake their heads in a circular motion, the top of the hat spins.

Picture it - they keep moving their heads, the hats keep moving.

They've got make-up on. Fake moustaches which are dripping down their small skinny faces in the heat.

And then they start to perform on the hot tarmac - literally under the cars and lorries.

I hesitate. Do I want to give them money? I already know I don't have any small change, but we are stopped at a red traffic light, and I can't get away.

Then the smaller of the two - perhaps about 4 years old - takes a tiny steel ring and wraps it around his body as he lies on the road.

He shakes, contorts, bends his back in two, puts his ankles to the back of his head as he lies on his stomach bent double, and moves this small ring around and up and down his body.

It is excruciating to watch. I see his mother at the side of the road with another baby on her back staring at me. I try to picture myself.

White western woman with sunglasses on, decent clothes and now I have to admit it - a Blackberry in my hand.

I was midst emailing an editor about a story I'd written as she had an urgent deadline and needed one extra fact and some photo captions.

So there I was emailing someone from my hi tech gadget which probably cost more than this family ever see in a decade or more. I am emailing, these kids are contorting, the mother is frowning.

I don't have the stomach for this. I give them a 100 rupees - a lot of money here -about 2 dollars I guess.

However, because I hesitated before giving them the money - the traffic was starting to move. They see me hesitate and wait. I melt.

I thrust the bill into the hands of the smaller of the children and...they nearly get trapped under the wheels of another car before taking off, grinning.

My heart was racing. Would it have been my fault if one had been knocked down and killed because I hesitated to give money?

I had been distracted, pretending they weren't there, emailing, then acknowledging them - a small dance which took a minute or so.

I don't know. I know these issues are complex. It's about the global economy, the haves and have nots, the caste system, opportunities, social matrices and a host of other things.

In the end however, isn't that what life is made up of?

Moments, decisions, reactions, emails and for some, day to day poverty.

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