Several months ago someone living in India dismayingly declared to me during a conversation – There are no poor people in India anymore. This was news to me because it is a commonly known fact that 70% of India’s population is quite if not abjectly poor. Talk about “what is on the periphery of our vision, continues to stay on the periphery and we don’t see it.” Just two days later he shared with us an absolutely adorable picture of his family in the verdant green fields of India sitting on a bullock cart driven by a very old, thin and frail man with white hair, chocolate colored skin, un-shaven, un-groomed white beard, with his skeleton structure showing through the dirty white tattered raggy kurta and cotton half pants, with a desi style topi, very much a part of this picture but my friend had clearly failed to notice or acknowledge as poor. Maybe it was the smile on the poor man’s face that disqualified him from being considered as poor. Or maybe in my friend’s world, rich people sometimes like to dress in rags and look so weak and frail.
Anyway, that dialogue has inspired this post. Not everyone who is NOT begging or NOT starving to death, is NOT NOT poor. What I mean is, they don’t always have to look poor (especially as you imagine poor to look like) or always die of poverty in order to be or prove that they are indeed poor. In fact, most of the poor India are living a hellish of a life and ‘d be rather dead but are not. So they strive to live as best as they can.
Here is a pic of a (poor) lady who we commonly fail to notice or see as poor. I called her the invisible cook because her presence in our world is usually not noticed unless she doesn’t turn up before we get hungry. In my home, she is helping us out temporarily while mummy is resting after her surgery.
Saku-ben’s eyes are crossed but she looks beautiful to me in her delicate features and unassuming smile. Her skin is dry, stretched and rough but her spirits couldn’t be higher. She is a single mother with one daughter and grandchildren with a temporary roof over her head. She walks her way to every single home where she cooks in her ragged rubber slippers. Although thin and frail looking, she has the stamina of a sportswoman, that somehow constantly reminds me of a bamboo tree. She works non-stop and extremely hard from early morning until late night. She repeats her sari every second day. She uses the dreadful public bathrooms and yet she is always showered and clean. Her meals are the most simple and amazing Desi (Indian) ones I’ve ever had.
On the first day of my arrival, I complimented her cooking and then assumed that I had made it evident that I liked what she cooked. But since then she calls me to taste the food to check if it was OK every single time she cooks. Very soon I realized that it wasn’t whether the food was okay or not (because it was lip-smacking every single time and she also knew it, her shining face told me so) as much as the compliments that I gave her after tasting the food that she craved to hear. Just that one sentence I say, twice a day, probably, rather, most certainly, makes her day! (And now it makes my day too.)
Her curiosity is perky and really excites me. She likes to ask why for everything. I haven’t asked her why she asks so many whys all the time. That habit of hers irritates the heck out of bed-ridden mummy who wants to simply say “because I said so”, but I have a feeling, from the sparkle in her eyes, that this otherwise illiterate woman probably feels like she learnt something new every time her why is answered.
Yes she has a mobile phone, because it helps her stay connected with the families whose homes she has to go to work, but it is a luxury which is not misused for her family gossip or WhatsApp (like the rest of us people-with-money-and-time do) and it indubitably does not make her UN-poor.
Saku-ben, the invisible cook, is indeed poor, who can not afford to lose a single family’s work else her family will most likely go without a meal that evening.
Poor people like her, just like the rest of us, also want to look and feel normal. Nobody likes to feel poor, not even the poor people. They also desire dignity and self respect. And like her, they too wish to earn their way through this life through hard work and honesty. We just need to have a little more faith in people and show kindness in our behavior.