Homelessness & the power of Hope

 

People have different views & perspective towards life. Some are satisfied with what they have, while others  are too sensitive & long for comforts. If some hang on to their pride & ego, others would do any work for a living.

I saw 4-different youngsters in different parts of Manhattan {one right in front of Mr. Trump’s living quarters} holding banners that said If I have $20 I could find a room in the hostel & I could get a proper job or I could go to school or something like that.

I was forbidden by my family to take pictures… since it’s an apparent invasion of their privacy!! I fruitlessly argue with them that when they are physically fit & live in the land of opportunities & social security & still beg, why can’t I take picture? Many a times homelessness is forced on people by war or some kind of calamity which is really unfortunate. But in USA it’s not fair, infactI saw a young homeless man at Albuquerque (New Mexico), asking for help while holding a cardboard that read- “I am too honest to steal & too ugly for prostitution”!

Way back in 1990, my family and I, were homeless for 9-whole days. No home, no bath & we were exposed to fine dust storm in the desert No-man’s land between the Iraq-Jordan  A journey which takes less than 5 hours stretched to 9-days & nights! Being homeless is really sad & stressful…. Something like labour pain – it can only be experienced but can never be explained! The other day my daughter asked me Mum how can people live without a home? I think I would die if I become homeless… then I told her their time has not come for death… their Karma is still lingering on… more than that the word HOPE has a long reach. Hope is like the carrot & the donkey… somehow its pulls one to move forward in search of a better day. I explained to her of a worse condition than being homeless I had witnessed.

It was a leper without limbs (below his both knees), with raw pink flesh & flies sitting on it. He sat on a make shift wooden board with 4 small wheels pushing himself ahead with his palm. Sometime around 2008, I was walking along with my husband behind Mohan Bhandar at Mysore searching for some light fixtures. It was a crowded narrow street & suddenly he appeared right in front of me. His gaze was so sharp, transfixed almost piercing my soul as if blaming me for being able to walk… I just stood there, dumbstruck, unable to move, & my husband had to walk back after realizing that I was not following him anymore. His image is still imprinted in my mind…. Many a times I wondered what made him tick? Is that what is called the mortal “Vyamoha” in Sanskrit (roughly translated as deep attachment)? Or is it simply fear of the unknown, the death? Wish I could ask him what made him mentally so strong? What was he hoping for… a miracle? I realized then that if he had the courage to live, then no one on earth has the right to kill themselves- whatever may be the circumstances.

Usually homeless & begging goes hand in hand. Some may scrape from the dustbin than ask for handout. Begging style differs from country to country, & from person to person. There are many ways to beg… some will follow you or try to hang on to you like leeches. Some will silently beg. Some will sing or play music & expect some payment. While some will entertain with animals & rope tricks etc., etc. Some will earn money but are so used to their life on the street that they could never live a normal life. Beggary just becomes a way of life… old habits die hard…

Lately a beggar died in action (i.e. while still begging) on the streets of Bengaluru, India. When they lifted his body to be taken to the grave yard, they were in for a surprise… under his quilt on which he sat in a semicircle igloo like makeshift tent & begged, was currency worth more than 13-million rupees. Enough to give him a comfortable home, warm bed, food & clothing. Yet he sat on it till death, perhaps hoping it would hatch or lay eggs!!

More than that I was amazed to watch the video in which so many gathered with deep fervor, young old like, guarded by a police man with a lathi (stick) in hand, to count & sort the money. Touch & scent of Money, in any form & from any source is still desirable like bed of sweet smelling roses…. Hum. God knows how hands it will pass through & how many will try to pocket some… Begging from the Beggar rather from the Dead Body!! Ironically, his lifeless body was laid right next to the whole drama, ready to be lifted… Dead Body, a funny strange word… Wondered IF, his Soul was hanging around watching the drama what would it must be feeling?

I always wondered how the homeless attend to their body waste. One day I was at McDonald’s in San Francisco, California & I saw a homeless man walk & buy a sandwich, & later go to the washroom. I was told that the restaurants can’t deny customers food & use of their washroom because of their back ground or attire… there are for all intents and purposes, public toilets! .

Two days back, we went for a walk late night after dinner. Weather was nice & streets were not crowded. Right opposite to Queensboro Bridge, finally I saw how they manage to sleep at night, at least few & when the weather is good. On the threshold of one of the shops, 2 individuals slept in close proximity fully covered with a sheet. And strangely, rested just above their head, was a brown leather bound bible with Holy Bible written in golden on it. I think that’s what Hope really means. When the world says give up, hope whispers, try one more time. Just across, opposite the entrance to tramway, on the rows of benches sat a man with a bottle of alcohol & flask practicing, perhaps a new tune, on his guitar. At a distance sat another, eating his dinner listening to music at the quiet of the night… he actually did not look like a homeless man. At the far end sat a homeless lady perhaps waiting for everyone, including us, to vanish from there so that she could sleep peacefully. The positive yet saddest thing was that even though she was homeless she had combed her hair very neat & her belongings in the cart were well folded & neatly stacked, maybe reminiscent to her past…. She reminded me of what a lady said to me when I visited a thrift market earlier… “when the country had better days, I worked at Pier 26 & I would buy expensive stuff & now I am selling them for throw away prices for a living”… the tone in which she said was very touching…. No one knows what is in store for anyone tomorrow…

My younger daughter says, mum why you are so interested in homeless people…. I don’t know why they always catch my eyes perhaps because once in my life, at a distant past I wore their shoes … thanks to Saddam & the so called Big Guns who stirrup troubles, as if possessed by some evil spirit to aid on something which doesn’t have an ending in the horizon!

Sometimes I see so many contrasts in one place. Like the other day when we were walking across the Rockefeller University, along the Hudson River bank, I saw brand new barbeque grill abandoned & loads of waste in the bin, may be leftovers from previous night partying. Right opposite to that slept a homeless woman in a neon green reflective safety west …… she slept so peacefully that even the traffic on the highway besides did not deter her sleep. Little further, on another bench, sat a well-dressed young woman (seemed hungover from the previous night) with a cell phone trying to type a message & half way through she fell back asleep, still clutching the phone. How she got there is beyond my understanding. When we returned, the young woman was still sleeping… the older woman was eating something that seemed like pancake from foil paper. Next to her stood a man eyeing everyone & when I saw his face, he was moving his tongue awkwardly, like snakes move their tongue… it reminded me of an old proverb: Even if the tamarind tree is old, the tamarind is still sour!! I wondered why the hell am I keep coming across so many strange characters & events?

To end with, here is a delicate story narrated by a Real Estate agent…. It seems once a couple approached her saying they wanted a home with just two specific requirements… the flat should be facing the main road & should have a large window. They did not bother if the flat was old or fittings/furnishing were broken as long as the two criteria were met. The reason they wanted the flat was that they wanted to keep their dog close to their work place so that they could come & visit the dog whenever possible. While they were away, the dog should not stress, bored or depressed… hum… I can say that some dogs are luckier & better loved than humans…

My DIL tells me that the government gives them shelter, food & clothing… but some people just don’t apply or collect. I have no idea how far the government aid is stretched but end of the day Super Power is just a virtual status which sounds fruitless once you know or live the sad reality like the empty shell of a hermit crab. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, every country is the same only the percentage differs!! After all Shangri-La is yet to be discovered & there is no such thing as Utopia!!

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Bloomington Diary – Part 7 – Homeless… is there a Utopia?

Both my husband & me belongs to different schools of thoughts & they say opposites always attracts so we are still together after donkeys’ years of marriage!! When I say something he always wants proof… just like the modern day youth…

Couple of years ago when we were in Boston for the first time, we saw a homeless man. It was the first summer weekend & practically the whole city was out either picnicking or just walking around or just doing something. When I asked my daughter why everyone is out she simply said its sunny & bright!! So even the homeless were out in the park-bench enjoying the sunshine! When I told my husband, his first question was, “how do you know?”… Well, I said, you should watch the movies or TV shows, then it’s easy to identify. He went to my daughter to confirm what I said was correct!!

Then I explained to him there is no such thing as Utopia in this Universe & no country is sans poverty (zero percentage) no matter what ever one says. I also added perhaps in yonder, somewhere in the distant past…. couple of centuries ago or more, before the Mughals, Portuguese, French, Britisher, etc., etc., came, India was almost close to Utopia… so good were some rulers starting from Sri Rama!! If only the correct history of India is in order…. not mixed-up-history we could learn so much….

So when I saw the first homeless in Bloomington & mentioned it to him, he agreed with me for a change. But the good thing was the next day morning we found her push cart lying empty around 350 meters from where we saw her the previous day. I said that’s a good thing & my daughter who was with us at that time said did you know that if this kind of cart is returned to the store by a homeless person, they pay money to them!! I don’t know who that they are?

It was on 15th when we were going out in the morning I saw a young woman standing opposite side pavement of Funeral Chapel with a placard that said, ‘help needed; family in trouble’. She was standing with all the humility which was soul touching. Perhaps it was the first time she was standing & I was wondering who could help her standing so far away. On 16th again I saw her still standing there in the evening. Then I said poor thing she is still standing there.

On 17th evening I saw a slim young man & another lady standing almost at the same spot holding a placard seeking help. Incidentally on the same day morning my husband read out to me in Indiana Daily student newspaper that Indiana closed the books on fiscal year 2014 on June 30, ending the year with a $106-million surplus & more than $2 billion in reserve. I said the economy must be still recouping even though some states have surplus. That’s why even with surplus there are homeless… For some obvious reason my husband got angry with me & said that does not mean the percentage of poor people is still much lower than India.

My argument was that I did not compare people & I never said that America is poor… I am just telling no country is sans poor or with families below poverty level. India has one too many mouths to feed & our politicians are greedy & selfish, we don’t teach the general public about family planning, etc., etc. This went on till both of us got tired of the subject.

On the 20th of July we went to Chicago to spend two & a half days there. A lovely city in summer & then I started counting the homeless… on the Lake Michigan banks, in the garden, on the footpath, in the park, I totally counted 16 of them. Some sitting on the bench asking extra change (disposable), some that can’t work for health reasons, some with messages on placards, some simply sitting without expecting anything from anyone & some sleeping. After the 10th my husband started showing them to me… either he had become an expert in identifying them… or he was simply teasing me, I have no idea.

I said listen my dear husband, I am not condemning or comparing anyone with anyone but many a times people try to say or project Indians as poor or snake charmers or beggars. When the Superpower could not control the homeless & jobless & poverty, how could India which has one billion plus population eliminate these problems? We still manage to educate our children as best as we can & best of all, we still have something left after so many countries tried to loot us to the core.

24th July the day before we left Bloomy we saw yet another man with pony tail standing opposite to the funeral chapel with a placard. I have no idea why everyone chose that particular place. And we saw a cart of a homeless person abandoned on the road opposite to Indiana Physicians Center. The first one which I had seen still lay close to where it was abandoned, slowly moving towards the Marsh!! For some reason both of us were not interested on discussing that matter!! Later I saw two young men with a trolley bag searching in different dustbins around the complex block. I have no idea what they were searching for. It reminded me of the scene opposite to our apartment in Kuwait where sometimes I see people searching & collecting the fruits & vegetable discarded by the nearby shop. So no county is a Utopia & free from some kind of poverty – poor or homeless!!

Around one kilometer from where I live there is a large garden called Rumaithya garden. One middle aged gentleman (I was told he is a local) used to live in the park for more than a year. It was the way in which he lived was the interesting factor. He used to have crates of mineral water, juice, fan (I don’t know how he got the electricity supply or perhaps battery operated), mattress, blanket, etc. He used to lean on the pillow & sit (typical divaniya style), at times he had visitors too. Sometimes he used to leave his domain, & sit on the bench & pass weird comments to passing women in particular. I don’t know how he managed his food. I made futile attempt to take his picture from far & half succeeded. Someone told me he has own house nearby… but why he was staying there God only knows!! One fine day he was forcibly evicted from there it seems…

Wonder if the CEO taxi driver I had met in Chicago could have some answer to my doubt.