What I saw was quite the opposite- and I knew I this is what I can expect when I somehow, for a reason unknown to myself (because I wasn’t very eager to make the pilgrimage myself), I said ‘yes, I would come’. When I first landed back in Malaysia, I knew my friends are going to hoard me with numerous questions about how the country was. But I do not have words that they would like to hear about the country- I do not have niceties to deliver for them. I only ever have two words- overwhelming, and disturbing. I am 21 years old, and I perhaps have seen everything that the world has had to offer. I have seen the pinnacle of development, living in the centre of KL, and now, I have seen the possibly the ugly face of poverty- one experience that would leave any person shaken to its core, unless, that is, you are ignorant (or brave) enough to turn a blind eye and pretend you are walking on a perfectly fine road.
I travelled through the terrains along the National Highway, crossing state borders, watched elderly women limp in desperation while trying to avoid a high speed van from ramming into them, watched women and children walking in a seemingly endless and fruitless road carrying logs upon their thin, calcium-deprived shoulders in faint hope that the end of the road will provide a ray of light. I watched severely disabled people, and for once, was led to think- what’s the point of going on? What are they hoping for? I was never surrounded with so much pessimism. Carrying their children and begging with a statement that they do not have enough to even feed the child. Beggars are like milestone tombs, you see them at every corner that has even a remote landmark in a certain street. For once I was there, starring at a problem, and unable to think of a solution. How actually do you solve it? I could take a whip at politics at the tip of a finger (which is exactly what my mom did), but I knew that would do gross injustice to those whom our concern is directed at, and to those who our wrath is directed that.
I have long argued that our system is rubbish, the system of living that the society has created and enslaved its own self to, there is something so wrong about it- the system that emphasized on tall buildings, intense developments, public relations (you do not know whats genuine and whos being honest anymore), compromised values (there is no absolute truth or absolute lie anymore), conspiracy theories (there’s always something to fear about, walk out of your house with the fear you will get bombed, killed randomly, something would collapse and kill you, the train you are on will crash and kill you, be cautious, be cautious, don’t take risks, ever, and of course for the past few years, the world has met its doom time and again and somehow continued berthing us on its soil without us even realizing the jerk it made while going through the whole hassle of exploding, or being completely covered by a disaster, and then recovering itself). And if you have seen what I have seen- then you are bound to ask- where are we heading to? At what cost does success knock your door- humanity? When I was sitting at a bus station in some rural bus stop in Andhra Pradesh, I saw a girl (a fairly poor one by the looks, lower middle class I suppose), of around 10 years old sitting and isolating herself behind a couple of elderly citizens in one of the benches, with tears emanating from her eyes; she was trying ever so hard to fight them off. She shot a couple of wandering looks around the station, and then resigned back to being a subdued figure on the bench. I knew that look. It was the look which asks- where the hell is my mother/father? She was holding a small parchment of money in her hands, it became ever so obvious that she was asked to wait there. And she has waited for an awfully long time. At one side, I felt furious at whoever she is waiting for, leaving a girl of that age all alone in a bus station that even scares me by how it looks is not the act of any responsible parent. And as she continued that horrible routine of waiting while her heart just wants to whither and cry aloud, shouting for where her caretakers are; a conflicting cross over between acting like a baby and a grown up girl, munching her fear and consoling herself, I discontinued listening to my iPod; it just didn’t feel right anymore. I was standing a small distance away from her, relinquished my seat, and simply followed her act- my eyes wandered to where her eyes wandered- I looked at an approaching adult and asked- could this be her mom or her dad? And as that process continued, I found myself yearn for her parents probably just as much as she does. I imagined me losing my parents and stranded alone in a faraway bus station where people sleep on floors smelling of expired pee, as if it’s a fluorescent sprayed cushion. I knew that same tears were dwelling in my eyes. A few minutes later (which I was distracted as my mom surveyed for the right bus we have to get on), I looked back and found her talking to a woman nearby. There was relief in her face. And the smile which came out of my face was so blatant that anyone who saw it would have thought that I was a loony. But I couldn’t care less. That humanity in myself is still there, it’s still a child’s humanity, uncorrupted, uncompromised, untainted- it did not grow into an adult and I never want it to be an adult. And I told myself- the next time I come across such a scene in my life, I shall be in a position where I could comfortably denounce my insecurities behind and offer a hand to help, or probably give an ear to listen. This time sadly, I was just as hapless as she was during the wait, so I allowed myself to feel the same agony she is going through. It makes you cherish smiles, pleasures and moment of painless living even more.
What desperation might have driven the parent to abandon her young daughter in a place like this? Again we retort to the basic question- system. All these are the scraps that the unmerciful development is leaving behind- scraps that pursuit for luxury and comfort is leaving behind. It’s just plain war, isn’t it? As the old adage goes, in war there will be casualties. And this war, here are the vast amount of people who are becoming casualties. But my questions is- whose war is this? We can clearly see the casualties, but who is fighting who? Who are the winners and the losers? What will the winners get? What will losers get? It is about time these questions are given serious thoughts. But somehow many of us know its quite too late to change much- as I said, we had become slaves to the routines we alone invented, to the systems we alone invented; we have made negligence and turning a blind eye part of adulthood, we have made lying and cheating a part of maturity, we have made being stone-hearted a quality for success.
Then I remembered one of my favorite songs of all-time, and the message of it made complete sense- Pray for me Brother. AR Rahman’s composition about eradication of poverty probably has the best view on what we could and should do to help the needy- Appreciate the life you’ve got.
He (the poor man) is searching for a reason to stay alive;
Are you searching for a reason to be kind?
That’s the hypocrite in all of us. Many of us do just that, we search for a reason to be kind, while that poor man across the street searches for a reason to just stay alive. You see them closely and you wonder, whats the point of going on- when you are living in the scraps, when you are considered a filth, when people don’t want to look at you because either they consider you to be an irritation or just because you are not an image they don’t want to stick up in their minds? Is there any point at all in going on?
And think, how many of us, despite all the comforts that life provides to us- us with hands to write, legs to walk, eyes to see, money to travel, wisdom to analyze, clean clothes to wear, how many of us think life is cruel when faced with a hardship? We sit and complain as if we are the worst treated beings on earth- ignoring that poor man. And many of us just cease to go on- we do have an alarming suicide rate. If that man who has nothing but possibly a small parchment of hope could muster the courage to stay alive, why can’t we at least do that, and give life the value it deserves?
I’m ashamed ah, be brother dying of poverty,
When he’s down on his knees only then he prays.
How many of us only pray when we are down on our knees? That’s us hypocrites. In joy, there’s hardly any space for a prayer, but when there is a hardship, a desire to be fulfilled, something you need God to open up ways for us, we’d pray profusely. But that poor man across the street, treats even 20 rupees of earning as a blessing. Yes, these people do still have faith in God, and instead of moaning and complaining, they say thank you for the smallest of rewards. How many of us say thank you for being given a bed to sleep, proper food to eat, a proper house to live, a proper car to drive? How many of us say thank you for being bestowed with this life?
Many of us struggle to wear even a smile in our lives. We think the rest of the world is corrupted and we walk around, getting frustrated and irritated at the smallest of imperfections- we frown at other people, we throw insults at people whom we think are intruding a space that we alone deserve. We world is no private space, its everybody’s space. And wear a smile on that face of yours, because these poverty-stricken individuals, with almost no reason do smile- do exactly that. They walk barefooted carrying logs and rubbish for miles, yet they smile, converse happily when they meet another poor person- the kind of conversations we have while we are sitting in classy restaurants with our friends.
I’m not saying we should abandon our comforts to understand their struggle, but appreciate the presence of their struggle and improve the quality of your life. Wear a smile and acknowledge you do have a reason to be grateful, if you are being bestowed with all happiness and don’t find a reason to say a prayer, say a prayer for those who are in need.
Could you ever listen, could you ever care
To speak your mind?
Stop turning a blind eye on everything that matters- thinking that somebody will take care of it. Everybody thinks somebody will do something about it, but in the end nobody did what anybody could do. Be that somebody, don’t be a nobody- by being a nobody, we are only wasting away the life we have, reducing its value, its impact; make life worth living- there’s no bigger crime in my eyes that a failure to appreciate life- that is what possibly every religion has fiercely highlighted.
The joy is around us,
But show me the love that we must find.
The joy is indeed around us. We just fail to find it. Little do we know that every small action we take will gradually have its consequences. You release a negative energy within a crowd of people because it’s a bad day-but actually it’s a bad day because of the negative evergy that you are allowing yourself to give. It takes 54 muscles to frown, and only 14 to smile, why spend so much effort in making this world a worse place to be in? A smile, trust me, can make a whole lot of difference. It gives more hope to those in need.
Don’t let me take, when you don’t wanna give
Don’t be afraid, just let me live
Don’t give if you don’t have the intention of giving. If you want to give, give with your hearts open, let them take ot from you with a cheer. You are not helping a filth on your street, but you are helping a brother, a fellow human being. Always remember that. Many of us are afraid to give. Giving has become a crime. ‘Don’t give, it’s not gonna make any difference’, ‘don’t give they will just cheat’. Who, then, will make a difference? It’s a tiny particle of your attempt to make a difference which will slowly accumulate to make a bigger difference.
Try giving with a smile, and notice that you will sleep with more nourishment than you have ever slept. Walk ignorantly, you are bound to be ignored by another person at some other time. What’s the problem if others don’t give? You make the difference and you be happy about it- because you are different from others. And being different is no crime. What’s the problem if others don’t smile back at you? You smile, you will only leave the other person feeling ashamed for failing to smile back. The guilt exists in all of us, it’s just that have enslaves ourselves to pretending and thinking we are a higher being than those on the street. No, we are not. In fact, they understand life’s value better than we do. I’d rather stay humble and say they are greater beings, because they just live- they are not dominated by worldly pursuits which posseses us to a manic level, they know how to make the smallest amount of money count.
Cos life is a blessing,
It’s not just a show.
Acknowledge that blessing. The word needs it. Every change in this world starts with self-transformation.
And I’ll pray for that brother and that sister.