January 7, 2012

The value of human life.

Its funny how a chance remark can get you thinking. A friend just mentioned that a funeral in Mumbai costs Rs. 250/- and triggered a train of thought which questioned the value of human life. We are so engrossed in our daily lives that we do not stop to ponder over how meaningless life and death has become in India. Everyday, scores of people die on our streets. Some are victims of disease, hunger and poverty. Some are victims of chance. But the worst are those that are victims of fate and apathy. I remember seeing a hunchbacked old lady at a signal I passed everyday, on my way to work. I was well aware that the beggars of Mumbai are a nexus and a well-oiled machine working with clockwork precision, and usually I would never give any of them any money. However, this lady was always an exception. Just the sight of her old, frail, hunchbacked self sitting in the sun and approaching cars slowly was enough to move me. I admit to giving her more than just mere change. And a part of me always wished that I wouldn't see her there the next day. That she would be allowed to rest and live rather than beg. But come sunshine or rain, she was always there. As time passed, it almost became a routine for me to hand over a Rs. 20/- to her, if only to elicit a toothless grin from her weather-beaten leathery face. At times she would preen and bless me, at other times sulk and ask for more. Whatever the case, I developed a strong affection for that hunchbacked old lady at the traffic signal...
Months passed and suddenly, I stopped seeing her at her usual perch by the signal. I waited for a few days before asking some of the other beggars about her. Was told that she had passed away and the BMC had taken the body away because they didn't have money for her funeral. As tears rolled down my cheek I wished I had been there to give her that Rs. 250/- for a dignified death.