Monday, 27 December 2010
PITY OR COMPASSION ?
The above comment by Stirling Road moved me to do this posting, a detour from my train trip.
I am so pleased that the photo on my side bar touched him/her so deeply. It has done what I hoped it would do - to remind us of a "lonely world only the boy and the cat share".
In reply I would like to post my encounters with children during my travels in the 1980s and 1990s.
I remember our experience in Malaga (Spain) sometime in the 1980s. We were sitting and resting on a bench placed by the side of this big avenue watching a number of Gypsy children aged from 6-12 darting dangerously between and in front of cars trying to sell some items to the drivers. At times we flinched because these children were taking great risks in their attempts to sell their goods.
Then one of them, a little boy of about 7 came to us with a packet of tissues to sell. We were sick and fed up of being bothered by touts on our holiday. But this was just a child and we had seen him dicing with death on the avenue.
We felt so sorry and sad. Yes, Stirling Road we could not hold back those sentiments. But pity had no place in our thoughts because it is patronising and condescending and arrogant.
We paid for the tissues and gave him much more than he expected. We saw him run to his elder sister to give her the money. Within a few minutes she approached us with more packets of tissues in her hands. And we were aghast. We're being taken for a soft touch - she's going to dump more of her stuff on us. We should have realised these were Gypsy kids and they are canny and sharp. Those were our thoughts.
There followed a series of gestures between this English-speaking couple and the Spanish-speaking Gypsy girl. We were saying 'no, no' and of course we could not decipher her retorts as these packets of tissue were being shoved between her and us.
Finally in exasperation she left the tissue-packs on our laps and ran off to join the others to carry on doing her 'job'. It then dawned on us why she did what she did! She was giving us the tissues because earlier, we had paid more than we should. She was not trying to sell us more. She would only take money for what had been sold. To her it was a straightforward business deal. She did not want charity. Or pity????
We felt ashamed of our doubts and our fears of these children . They had more guts and honour than all the politicians in Spain or Britain or Malaysia put together!
But I must also confess to being insensitive and unkind to child-beggars. I was waiting alone while the spouse had gone off to buy our train tickets at Bombay's Victoria Railway Station. I soon found myself encircled by a dozen or so small open hands begging for money. They were moving their hands from patting their stomachs to pointing to their mouths and then to your face. These were gestures of deprivation and poverty that I was confronted with, day after day after day, during our trip in India.
I could not cope any more with these 'assaults' on my conscience, on my sense of guilt and the unremitting poverty of the Indian sub-continent. But more than anything else what angered me was the obscene gap between the rich and the poor. I put my hands to my head and yelled " Go, go to Rajiv Gandhi!!". He was the Prime Minister of India then. And they all fled and I stood there in tears.
You see Stirling Road , I could not give them feelings of sadness or pity or encouragement. I was enraged and furious at the INJUSTICE. Why should these children suffer while others live in the lap of luxury?
I felt the same for that child from Pusat Tahfiz Amal. I have given up on most cries for "charity and love" for the poor and the oppressed. Charity only gives the donor a feel-good experience, like giving themselves a pat on the back. Giving just love to the destitutes is an insult to them and at times self-serving.
For as long as injustice prevails, when the rich and powerful amass wealth at the expense of the country and its people, everything else being done is marginal, like sticking a piece of plaster on an oozing gangrene.
Thank you Stirling Road for your insight and compassion. Your childhood is very much like that of Jailani Abu Bakar (posting on 8 November) and you both have turned out to be kinder and sensitive human beings.