I was travelling back home last evening when I encountered a situation that caused me a great deal of mental agony and threw me in a state of moral dilemma.
I was making the journey from the bus stop to my home in an auto rickshaw at about 7.20 pm, when the driver brought the vehicle to a sudden halt at one of the biggest and busiest traffic crossings in Vashi. He was hoping to make it across the traffic signal and accelerated to 50 kmph (a great feat considering the age and condition of his vehicle) but just as we approached the zebra crossing the light turned red. Frustrated, he brought the vehicle to an abrupt halt almost throwing me out of my seat. I am used to this particular behaviour. All auto drivers in Vashi drive like this-race against time to cross the signal when there is precious little time in hand (generally 3 to 5 secs) and on spotting a policewala, bring the vehicle to a screeching halt. This is Vashi’s special brand of driving. No matter how many times you request them to drive sanely, they don’t listen. Unless the driver is exceptionally bad, I don’t object to the reckless driving anymore. You learn to live with the everyday road perils.
The Sector 17 traffic signal is situated in the commercial sector of our little town and is always bustling with activity. There are brightly lit shops selling all kinds of merchandise from shoes to suitcases to designer watches to pan on the right hand side and a little ahead sits Vashi’s bus depot, which in itself is a hub of excessive human and vehicular activity. In the evenings, one finds people carrying office bags along with the excess baggage of their shopping bags collected on their stop-over at the market, frantically trying to locate a mode of public transportation or attempting to find the least crowded path to walk back to their home. The rapid activity can sometimes make you dizzy, especially if you are not a part of the activity and are instead watching it from a distance.
While I sat in the auto waiting for the light to turn green again and the auto driver kept himself busy by pointlessly accelerating the engine at an interval of two minutes, a small black hand approached me. For a second I was taken back. I hadn’t seen the small child approaching the auto and therefore wasn’t prepared for the sudden appearance of a thrusting hand, tightly clutching a few threads flowers. The small white juhi flowers were strung together to make the traditional gajara or vaini. The girl urged me to buy a few flowers. I knew that she wasn’t really selling the flowers; she was looking for hand-outs. We meet so many of these people selling odds and ends at traffic signals. Generally we ignore them till they go away. But dealing with a child is different. I know it’s wrong to encourage child labour which is exactly what we do when we buy things from them, it is equally wrong to encourage disguised begging. We have laws that prohibit both and yet when we see a child at a traffic signal, we are at a loss.
One part of me wanted to buy some flowers even though they were of no use to me, only to help her and the other part wanted to be stern and not encourage such an incorrect activity. I thought to myself, if I do buy her flowers, she may use the money to buy herself some food. But it was more likely that she would have to deposit her earnings with her mother or the dada of the group she belongs to. These people may or may not use her money for her benefit. May be they provide her with food depending on the amount of her earning. May be they don’t care about her anyway and simply used her as a means of gaining the sympathy (and money) of passer bys. My mind was buzzing with a zillion thoughts and before I could come to a decision, the traffic light changed and the auto driver sped forward.
All thought the remainder of the journey, I wondered if my indecision caused a small child additional misery. By not being able to come to a decision regarding the situation I faced, I had in fact taken a decision of not extending help. I felt guilt ridden. Why had I taken so long to extend help? Why do I always need to think through a situation fully before coming to a decision? Why can’t I be a little more spontaneous? My purchasing those flowers from the tiny girl wouldn’t have been a life altering event for her, but at least it would have eased my conscience. I am still not able to assess myself. I don’t know if what I did was wrong or right. But I do know I am, at some level disturbed at my inability to help a child.