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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Of pavement sales, Mr. President, and the Most Photographed Person on 5th Avenue!

 

September 13th 2016…… As part of our usual exploratory Manhattan walking, my husband and I crisscrossed the streets from 1st avenue to 5th Avenue, but this day it was a strange sense of business everywhere: Workers and NYPD were everywhere, erecting metal barricades starting from First Avenue and driving around with their lights flashing. New Yorkers, as always, didn’t seem to care & my curious cat husband asked a couple of police women what were was going on. One of them told us the reason for the commotion, the leader of the free world, Mr. President, would be passing through.

We walked across towards 5th avenue passing through Lexington Avenue & the streets were buzzing with tourists, dog walkers, baby walkers (strollers) & few office goers. The weather was slightly warm but beautiful. At 62nd street, a gentleman was walking 4-pretty looking Poodles, all in apricot & almost same size while the 3 marched in unison, one of it started with pranks. While waiting for the crossing, one of the Poodles decided that she (guess) had had enough & slept on the ground & refused to get up inspite of the handler coaxing it…we spent few minutes watching the cute drama queen.. then as she still fussed, we walked further past the grand Apple show room.

As we passed the GOP’s Presidential candidate’s looming black tower, tourists were busy photographing themselves with the happiest person of the day – the beaming DOORMAN… outside stood few cops, seemingly oblivious of the activities around. For once the General & his Golden lady had a competitor… There were 2-professional photographers perhaps expecting Mr. Trump to get out of the tower, randomly clicking the doorway & another one busy interviewing passersby (a lady in light blue attire was talking into the mike) & a gentleman, dressed in a T-shirt & shorts with a placard in hand that had a picture of two of sons of Mr. Trump with a dead wild cat with “Trump’s sons are deplorable” written across & another one with “Dump the Trump”. We stood there watching the circus & after few seconds a young couple passed by & started arguing with the protestor… we are not Trump supporters but you have no right to say…. the argument went on for more than ten minutes… & most tourists were interested in clicking pictures with the Doorman… who was practically in 7th heaven.

As usual I was insisting that I want to talk to the protestor & my husband did not want anything to with the drama around… finally when the couple left, I asked the gentleman to pose for a picture & then a Jewish gentleman (not very orthodox) with a little cap on his head started discussing with the protestor… saying the photograph must have been doctored!! The protestor was telling that they are fond of hunting & they have killed so many animals & they are hoarding ivory at home, etc., etc. Everyone seemed or sounded like they were not for Mr. Trump but were against the depiction… anyways their understanding or logic was beyond my understanding!

We walked further, passing in front of beautiful old churches & going in & out were the tourist like us, just curious to see the décor like the stain glasses inside… one church even said “This is God’s House, All are Welcome”… I wondered what would be the future of the N-number of beautiful churches in Manhattan? I remember the charming churches of Amsterdam, which are turned into discos or something else as church goers dwindle. I have no idea if Mr. God is happy (or sad) to be left alone in peace. I thought of the “Good News” people still trying to convert the innocents back in India by offering money & wondered instead of creating incomplete, half knowledge worshipers why can’t they improve the existing ones? Strange are the ways of men & their ideology.

We spent time lazing around Rockefeller Center & looked at the exotic Asian plants including the little bread fruit trees & was wondering why they had harassed me & my husband for carrying a single little orange from a British Airways meal at Boston Airport way back in May 2009. Words from the principles of Rockefeller Jr, in front the building is always very inspiring for me. Interestingly, in front of it two men were arguing about something related to one of the gentleman’s wife… & both seemed strangers! Further at the entrance was etched “Wisdom & Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times” – hope this will pass on from generation to generation.

As we returned, beside Trump Tower stood an ambulance & an old man was sleeping on the stretcher after collapsing from fatigue. We stood watching the efficiency of the attendants. While passing in front of the Trump Tower we noticed that the door man had changed & there stood a serious-faced man seemingly stressed & no one was photographing… I joked with my husband that perhaps everyone was jealous of the previous Doorman getting so much attention….. Seemed like he was even more popular than the static Queen’s Guards… of Buckingham Palace!!

And as we crossed, just before the apple showroom, there were many portable chairs & some had small plastic covers kept next to each other. On it was written “$300 for the space including the chair”. Now I was wondering if people are allowed to sell the pavement or what? America is advancing a step forward or backward? I’ve heard of people selling land in the moon… so this must be the testing ground… hum! Made my husband talk to one of the people sitting on the chair & they said they had no idea why they were selling the space. How charming, all in part of hour’s wage. Well, ignorance is bliss… & as we walked further, there were countless offers of carriage trips around the park. And with a “thank you, we have done it already”, I asked one of the gentleman about selling the space & chair & he said it’s for the iPhone 7 sale, for the 16th release…. Oh boy it’s still 13th & sale already started…. God help them. Pokemon…. iPhone 7.. what next..? As long as the human minds could be lured, there are endless opportunities & there is no end to surprises.

Later Mr. Obama’s convoy passed just a stone’s throw from home but I was too tired to go stand to see the vehicles… once I did see Mr. Bush junior’s helicopter landing in Washington & it was not thrilling so what is the use of waiting for a bunch of black car?