Questions and Crises


She notices my obvious discomfiture and approaches me. I try to look away. But before I’m able to put up a solid act, she’s extended her scrawny palm before my face. So close that I can smell the dust and urine from it. Or so I think. In a daze, I fumble for my purse, dig in it for small change, finger a few coins and as I’m about to hand it over –  it’s too late. The auto-rickshaw jolts and races ahead even as I feel her clammy fingers on mine.


The sights and sounds around magnify and beat on my senses as I gather my shawl around myself . The road is a blur of light and dust. There is not much breathing space as bikes and rickshaws screech to a halt all around, filling up the nooks. Trapped as in a vicious nightmare, I try desperately to focus on something nice.

I used to meet a flower-girl at this place. She’d had her tawny hair tied back in several plaits – making her cheeks look fuller than they were. She was a charmer, the little one – and she’d jump inside the rickshaw – arms laden with flowers. I haven’t been seeing her lately.


The rickshaw races ahead – like everyday. I’ve been up and down this road for more than a year now, and the sizzling blue Mercedes gliding along doesn’t appeal to my senses. Not today. A part of my brain wills the driver to stop or take a U-turn. Another part tries to reason. Caught between reason and impulse, I sit back and philosophize.


She had a man on her back. Half a man, to be correct, which made her progress slow and painful in between the labyrinths of stalled vehicles. But she was perfectly calm. She worked her way in accustomed silence – with the knowledge that the very sight of her will loosen the purse-strings.

Besides, aren’t there labour cartels – of the flea market variety – that force poor folks into begging and prostitution? Giving alms to the poor, in a way, perpetuates the problem, without bringing any positive change to their lives.


So I think for the umpteenth time, what WOULD bring positive change to their lives? Would it help if I contributed to some charity? Would it ensure that the money reached her? And even if it did, what would she do with it? I doubt if she’ll buy soap to clean her hands. Probably she’d spend it on food. Or worse, on a drunkard husband.


I think about my charming flower-girl. I might never see her again. And if she lives on the streets, she will soon wither away under the hard gaze of leering men. Or harden into a smouldering, swearing young girl spitting tobacco in your face with abandon. My soul breaks at this grim inevitability.


They are lost to us. These words that I employ to describe them are, at best, an apology and a misnomer. Because my words are light-years away from their world. And because I cannot face them full on. I cannot justify my privileges in the face of their pain. Because, for all my well intentioned rhetoric, I am paralyzed between impulse and reason. And for every woman begging on the streets and smelling of urine, I fail as a human being.


Hi, I'm Sampurna and I'm from India. I love to write, paint, and play with my dogs. Catch up with me at Halfastory's Blog. Happy reading!

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4 comments on “Questions and Crises
  1. prinks says:

    Its a complicated relationship…and i agree with ur sentiments…i too have been looking for her. I also remember the girl on the next signal (she used to do aerobics on road and then ask for some money for her splendid performance)..i remember sharing biscuits and fruits with her. Somedays i used to feel bad when i didn;t carry any food. Today i intentionally keep stuff for her, but she does not appear there any more. The sweet smile that started my day, no more blesses me.

    the worst i have not been ablet to do much about it. 😦

    • Sampurna says:

      Yes. She’s been in my mind for quite some time now. I’d written about her in The Club – I’m posting that in my next entry. Just so it’s not lost. And that’s all the more reason for my feeling guilty. There’s so much to do, and we’ve not even begun.

  2. Marilyn says:

    This post was so powerful. I have experienced numerous moments like these in both Cairo and Pakistan where I suddenly realize that someone who I saw daily, never found out their names, but knew their lives were lived at a more costly and difficult level had disappeared. And then it happened in downtown Boston – a big wealthy American city where I wasn’t expecting to have either the encounter or discomfort.
    Thanks for your great writing.

  3. Sampurna says:

    Thanks Marilyn. I wish I could be more useful though.

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