When we first got to India and my kids were obsessed about one stray dog after the next, I gave them a little lecture. “For every dog you see, there are hundreds of people, many are children, who aren’t in school, who don’t have toys and clothes or beds to sleep in. Don’t forget about them, don’t overlook them.”
My then 14-year-old son Addae said, “Mom, it’s just that we feel like we know what to do when we see a dog with a hurt paw or that’s hungry. It’s not that we don’t care about the people, it’s just that we don’t know what to do.”
Years ago, I went to the film set of the movie “Seven” to see Morgan Freeman because I had a script that I wanted him to star in. While I was there, I met Brad Pitt. He walked over to say hello and Morgan introduced us. I turned to him, gave him the “nice to meet you smile” as I shook his hand and said, “Nice to meet you.” Then, without missing a beat, I turned back to Morgan. I didn’t include Brad in the conversation, didn’t make eye contact, I was done. In time, he wandered away.
Here in Mumbai, there are beggars. Most are children. They have big doe eyes and beautiful innocent faces. They are relentless and they never wander away when they are ignored.
They know me, they can tell that I am easy prey so they circle and wait, wait to catch my eyes, wait for me to look, for me to see them. And they know that when I do, I will see all of the things that I avoid and fear. I will see my children in them and I will love them because they deserve more.
The thing is, I didn’t blow off Brad Pitt because I don’t like him or because I don’t think he’s one of the most handsome men in the world. It was pure survival instinct kicking in. Had I not blown him off, I might have looked into his eyes and gotten stuck. I may have gotten lost in my obsession for him, never to be seen again.
If it all went well, Jennifer Aniston or whoever he was with back then, may have stepped aside, having been overpowered by my “truer, deeper” love. If it went badly, I might very well end up in a padded room, writing his name in my blood and clutching People magazines with his picture on them. Either way, I wasn’t up to it. It was bigger than me and I knew it.
Sometimes when I’m feeling strong and optimistic, I glance at the beggars and give them rupees or biscuits. Other times, I don’t look, I just blow them off. I ignore them when they knock on my car window for the whole 5-minute traffic light. I pretend to be engrossed in my cuticles or the upside down book in my hand. I ignore the babies slouched in their mothers’ arms and the toddlers perched on their mothers’ hips. I ignore the tattered clothes and the deformed limbs. I wave them away, but they never leave.
I blow them off because I’ve been warned that if I give to one, they will target my car and hound me every day when I pass the same street. I blow them off because I hate how powerless I feel when I’m around them. Mostly, the reason I blow them off is survival on my part. I am afraid that if I look, if I really see them, if I really look at the state of this humanity, I might get lost, never to be seen again.
It’s not that I don’t care about them, it’s just that I don’t know what to do.
Oh Nandi I so understand. I was only there for six weeks in 1986 and saw all those children. But before I went a person who was born in India told me that I must understand that I could not make a difference. What ever I gave just went to help for a moment but not in the big picture. He didn’t have any idea how to fix that big picture. I finally had to convince myself that it is karma. That this life they are living is chosen somehow for the lessons they need to learn in this life. But it doesn’t make it any easier, when one takes your hand in his little one and is so sweet. So yes I did give to some, knowing it would change nothing. One thing I found important was to smile at the women. Those sitting in the streets were like so happy if you smiled at them and they would always smile back. They liked me this round, white skinned, white haired, bright blue eyed lady and were so very nice to me. Perhaps they needed something, but too I often felt at one with them. It seems you are there for a learning process too. And then it always goes back to we have to heal ourselves and as we do that it works it’s way out to the rest of the world. By your learning and understanding, you are making a difference. Never quite enough for us, but that is also what we learn, to just do it.
Wow, thanks for the amazing journey. Looking forward to your next entry. Many Continued blessings. Z
If you could save a child from a negligent mother by kidnapping that child AND get away with it, would you?
Thank you Nandi for sharing your journey with us. Your son is beautiful. And although I haven’t made it there yet, I’m intrigued by your postings! Perhaps next January. Be Blessed. Talk soon.
Nandi, Beautiful illustration of your journey and humanity. Thank you for the spectacularly courageous insight. Continue sending, I’ll continue reading. Best to you and your family.
I Love the innocence of your son. I am reminded of something I read once. Mother Teresa was asked how she could get up every morning and help the endless amount of sick and needy people of Calcutta day in and day out. She was asked she get over whelmed? She responded I just do what is in front of me. Nandi just do what is in front of you. That is all you can ever do all you ae ever expected to do. Blessings.
Thank you all for your insights and for your thoughtful sharing. I am inspired by you.
Love reading about your experiences. Thank you.
Starving Children: What a horrible thing to say. The mothers are not negligent, they are poor and doing the best they can. There are not a lot of options for people from difficult backgrounds in India. Suggesting that a foreigner or more wealthy person could “save” the child by kidnapping it from a “negligent” mother is highly inappropriate.
Ginger: it DOES make a difference. I work with former street children now in their teens leading productive lives. These girls all remember what it was like to beg on the street. They all remember that the kindness / guilt / giving in of strangers is what kept them from getting beaten, or from going to sleep hungry. When we are out together and a beggar comes to us, I always ask them what should I do, and they unanimously tell me to help and confirm that it DOES help. And for the people who do eventually manage to get help and improve their lives, the memories of those small acts of kindness absolutely do make a longer-term difference.
mumbaieexpat, Of course I know each little thing that is done makes a small difference. The person warning me before I went mainly felt that we go there hoping to change everything and that is not quite possible. But I did feel that each time I was able to give a child small change it might give them a meal for that day. I have never believed that it is bad to do that because they will expect it.
I know in Reshikesh the lepers were by the lake and it was advised to help them. But I did give what I could, I guess what I learned was not to expect anything but to just be happy giving where I could. As I said in my remarks, I felt that the smiles I gave the women were received deeply. It was like they were so happy to be acknowledged. We did spend a few weeks in Reshikesh and got to know people and the area. That was the best time because it was more country and people were so very nice to me. I am so glad that I was able to spend the six weeks there when I was young enough to really handle it. I will never forget that time.
Praise be to GOD, you are definintely making a difference, even if it is just opening our eyes to the situations you are encountering. Thank you for including usin your journey.
You don’t have to save the whole world, just the part standing next to you, You have chosen a very busy corner….
love your blog!!!
Thanks for the amazing info. I find these posts have a lot of material. I can’t wait to get a chance to impliment all these great posts. Thank you very much.
Thanks for some other fantastic article. Where else may just anybody get that type of information in such an ideal method of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I’m at the search for such info.
STacy the only way to get real information is to go there. We all should have that experience. Nandi is fortunate to be living there for a while and getting to be a part of India. I know my six weeks changed my life. You might plan a trip for yourself.
Thanks so much for reading
Lovely blog Nandi!
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Great info. Lucky me I discovered your blog by accident (stumbleupon).
I’ve saved as a favorite for later!
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