Tuesday, 19 July 2011

burning pockets

In India, while studying the caste system, I lived in the "untouchable" section of a rural village. The following journal entry includes a spoken and unspoken conversation with a rickshaw driver and his wife (in photo below). While I spoke with them, I had a 100 rupee bill in my pocket (about 2$ Canadian). I've since been reminded of this feeling - where I'm the one with burning pockets, with money available, while someone else is not. What's my responsibility? 

It makes me uncomfortable to feel privileged.

We speak indirectly; I ask surface questions, you answer. 

You talk of money, of an income ranging from nothing to 50 rupees a day
You have 4 children, rickshaw rent of 10 rupees a day, barely enough food, an addiction to alcohol, and frequent problems with the police...

Do you KNOW that I stand beside you with 100 rupees in my pocket? burning a hole, I’m uncomfortable, hot, angry, helpless, tempted to hand it to you, absolve myself of guilt...

But you’re not alone, so many like you
I’m not alone, too many like me
palms sweating, 
mind aching, 
dollar bill 

to whom? for what purpose?

I ask him how many years has he done this?
20 or so but SHE answers: what can I do?
What can I do? I reply

our silent conversation screams and me, deafened by her pain, incredulous at the strength in her face

Yes, I’ll drink your tea. My filled stomach receives your food, your hospitality.
You have power, I tell her. You know how to survive. 
You have a kind of courage that I haven’t yet learned.

Yes, but how long? she replies. For what purpose?

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