The Tender Souls


“You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.” – Frank McCourt

I stopped her in the middle of the road and asked, “Would you tell me your story?” Her eyes looked at me as she grasped the hands of her little son (or grandson) and said, “What do you want to know? There is nothing to tell”. And she smiled.

It was a pauper’s smile, it was all she could afford. Her family came out from the shelters of the darkness and surrounded her. Kids, men, old men and ladies. First distrusting, then listening and later opening up. It was a tribe of day slaves coming from the remotes of Jhansi and Aligarh. A year in the city and they break their bread from the menial jobs of day labor that fetch them some petty sum of Rs. 250 a day. And the days when there was no work, they sit by the temple to beg for food, or money for their burning hunger.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, “ There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread”.

One of the kids, 2 year old, was coughing incessantly. The mother scolded him with the hope that her anguish would qualm his sickness. “We showed him to the doctor, but the medicine costs about Rs 200. We don’t have that”. She said it with so much simplicity that it made me wonder that things like that- life like that does not have a name. To name it or to label it, makes it like us. It traps it to the world of people, people like us. The beauty of them was their simple and honest smiles, the candor with which they opened their lives to us. All the kids were sent to school, all the men and women worked to live the life that they so very much deserve.

“What is your message to the world, to all the people who would be reading about you”? “Oh! I don’t have a message. I just have faith in GOD. That empowers us for a new day every morning!” I was in awe. I had never seen the life before, not like this. Never up so close. I could feel it, the collective sadness of these people, their struggles and their optimism. We thanked them for their time, for their story, for their lives and gave them some money and food. And drove back in silence of the realization that has just washed us over in that instant.

Out on the street I was talkin’ to a man

He said “there’s so much of this life of mine that I don’t understand”

You shouldn’t worry, I said, that ain’t no crime

Cause if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time, next time.

You need direction, yeah you need a name

When you’re standing in the crossroads every highway looks the same

After a while you can recognize the signs

So if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time, next time.

–Gerry Rafferty

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