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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Bilmismish*….. Pigs don’t FLY

Friday July 31st 2015, 6 am it’s hot & humid. It’s been almost two weeks since I collected the previous material for writing. Passing the familiar surroundings on my way to the walk, as I neared the circle I remembered that one more day it will be Twenty Five years since Saddam Hussain occupied Kuwait. So much had happened around the world since then. Kuwait has come a long way since & physically there is no trace left. However the mental scars left behind in the mind of citizen will never be erased. We did not live in this area before the war but sometimes we came here searching for food… Amman Circle was one of the few places one could find some fruits & vegetables. I don’t even want to think of those days…

As I crossed the road under the tree saw this cat had scratched the mud & was busy relieving itself in a small temporary hole… its face was serious… reminded me of constipated face of a child.. was wondering if the cats really drink enough water? Dint want to disturb it & walked past thinking how traces of their past still hangs on… even though they don’t live in the wild, to avoid detection they still bury their poop. Old habits die hard.. Some consider this act as cleanliness…

When I walked further I was wondering there is something odd… for a change there were no papers, plastic or any kind of garbage lying around!! I thought how can it be? Am I seeing things in humidity? Did the municipality read my mind… I went further I did not see anyone washing the car but then on Fridays the watchmen don’t wash the car, it’s their unwritten Law!! But what surprised me most was the garbage… I was not sure if there was a contract change of cleaning company or did a magic carpet with garbage magnet flew over on Thursday night… whatever it is there was no trace of garbage anywhere. Wow… so cool… I was so happy. Finally over night miracle had happened…

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As I passed the old school building where the sugar sacks were lying, I was into another surprise only 5-sacks were on the other side of the pavement & many of the empty sacks were on the ground & loads of brown sugar now perhaps faded looked almost like sand, scattered all around. Then I noticed that the non-operational school building yard was being converted into football court..  So I was not sure if the sugar sacks were destroyed by those workers as it was stored illegally outside the premises or the owner himself got rid of it as it was infested with ants or some kind of insects which could withstand Fifty plus Celsius temperature. I was happy & sad at the same time. Happy because God knows what must have been the condition of the sugar & many were saved from consuming it. I was also sad because what a waste of produce… from sugar cane field to the pavement how much resources were spent & wasted including manual labour?

By then I had covered more than a kilometer plus & already sweat was dripping all over & my eyes were burning… in case someone never experienced humidity**

When I reached the garden then I saw this mess scattered all over… remembered the old saying… pigs cannot fly… The filthy groups who had hot picnic the previous night had no decency to collect their waste & dump in the dustbin which is not far away. I wondered if the cat which was pooping in the hole was better than these civilized picnickers… What a coincidence I had seen the cat in the beginning of my walk. Oh Lord… wish I had a magic wand & turn all those nincompoops into CATS!! When will these so called civilized people will really be civilized?

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The tiled path is one kilometer… its marked clearly & I started counting the dustbins… there are 20 plus 3… 20 cement bins & 3 plastic ones at the entrance. It’s pathetic where the humans are heading. Otherwise also Kuwait is a plastic country & the amount of plastic bags used in shops & supermarkets… I joke with my husband that in couple of decades Kuwait will have enough plastic to cover the entire country…

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I was upset & when I walked further I found these four unusual nests on the ground under the tree where the drip irrigation vent was… I stood there 10 minutes for at least one single owner to show up but it never happened… survival of the fittest… braving the heat these insect (wonder what it is – termites, ants??) found a way to survive in the heat & close by the grass was in full bloom with unusual pinkish shade. It occurred to me that perhaps even before humans walked on earth these insects survived & grass bloomed & even if the human species wiped out they are here to stay! When the plants & insects are busy mastering the art of survival man is busy mastering the art of destruction….

*Bil-mishmish is a Kuwaiti word which means it never happens!!

**… it’s the moisture content in the atmosphere. When you are close to ocean the high humidity makes you constantly sweat… even if you are standing still. And it’s muggy, sticky, salty… it’s very uncomfortable feel it’s like a giant natural mineral (salt) removing machine. Like how leeches can such your blood without your knowledge humidity can suck your salt without your knowledge.. It’s like being in sauna but not really present in sauna & hair is sticky with salt… from under garment to outer garment is wet & can see the white streak of salt on the cloth if you allow it to dry. Your lips are salty with sweat flowing on your face. It’s hard to describe, you have to experience it… but there is pot of gold on the other end…. Once you have bath you feel your skin is smooth & supple… beautiful.. pores are opened up without even spending a dime… how cool is that?? Also if you were waiting to eat some salty dish & was hesitating… well you can go for it for the day!! Sounds crazy but…. Hum… Compared to Kuwait places like Dubai has more humidity, guess it’s the geographical position. Even there, Dubai stands number One…  in Kuwait mostly in mid July to September but not all the days.