Friday, April 06, 2007

Assault or experience

The Women's Day celebration is over! This means that I don't have to travel much on my bike during work. This means that I can take the public transport to work.(I like the suburban train and do not like buses). The train is a better option for various reasons - the obvious being, it is economical (cuts down my travel expenses by less than 50%!!! I don’t have to stress myself with the traffic on the road. I can even read when traveling to work! And most importantly, I get to walk from the train station to work. Doing this has helped me build exercise into my routine. Well, now let us get on with the reason for this post which is not about money management or keeping yourself fit. There is more to life, yes?

Now, walking is a very interesting thing to do for the simple reason that it helps you slow down. I mean, really slow down. When you are riding a scooter, you sort of zip through life at about 40 - 50 km/hr. And when you travel by a car you are cocooned in a bubble and totally cut out from the rest of the world - well, in a sense. But when you walk, you come face to face with the world. The bustling life. The people. The faces. All your senses are awake. You see the vibrancy of the place - all abuzz with bright colors of nice fruits and vegetables and saris; the smells (may not always be pleasant); the sounds - people are busy, vendors trying to grab your attention, people chattering (you get a glimpse into the lives of these people and it makes you realise that they are people); the heat, the sweat, the grime, the energy pulsing through your veins. You can either call this an assault on your senses or you can call it experiencing life and all that it has to offer. I choose to call it experience...

As I get out of the train, I rush to the staircase before all the people mob it. That is the only way I can climb two stairs at a time and make it ahead of the crowd. I climb down the stairs. There are beggars and vendors sitting at the staircase landing. I do not usually give them anything. I rush past them. Sometimes, I force myself to look at their faces - just to remind me that they are people too. I walk out of the station. I walk at a brisk pace. Dodging cyclists, motorists and people as I try to cross the road.

Once I cross the road on my left are shops - lots of shops. Bakery, mobile phone recharge, household gadgets shop... Oh, there is a bank as well. Every time I walk past the post office I tell myself that I should write to my friend. You see, after I got my laptop, I have almost given up on writing letters. I say almost because I haven't entirely given it up yet. I will get around to do that sometime. I will…

On the other side are small vendors. A variety of small businesses flourish there. I get to know what fruit are in season just by walking through the market. Oh yes, I have to walk through the market area when I go to work. This includes walking through the fish market part of the market. On this one small road (which is supposed to be a one-way) you have cyclists, two-wheeler riders and sometimes even auto-rickshaws going both ways along with the pedestrians. This scene continues till I reach the big road.

A lot of them vendors have push carts. Many of them occupy part of the road and set their business on a tarp spread on the ground. At the time I arrive, some of these 'shops' are closed. It is too early for business. However, there is still a lot of activity going on. The grape vendor arranging the fruit on his cart, the fish vendors bringing in their wares from wherever they buy it wholesale. The green leafy veggies lady unpacking her sack of green leafy veggies… The whole place is abuzz. It is more so when I return from work in the evening.

I have a specific interest in the vendors. Especially if they are women. Will come to that at the end of this post.

There a is zebra crossing at the place where this small road joins the big road. The beauty of this zebra crossing is, it is across a six-lane road! And the whole traffic actually stops for the pedestrians (you would understand the significance of this if you live in a country like India)!! Even I have stopped a number of times for the pedestrians at this crossing when I ride my bike to work! Once I cross and walk a bit past a bus terminus, I get to walk on a decent stretch of side-walk - neatly tiled and all.

Here again I get to see certain things that is of interest to me. I get to see poverty. By the side of the bridge and under the bridge is a slum. This is a low-lying area and is very close to the river. This river is sewer for most part of the year and during the monsoons, it floods. I walk past these huts. I watch kids in school uniform in the morning. (That is a sign of hope!) Some washer men and women washing clothes - yes, in that dirty water. Little kids playing around. I walk past taking all these sights in. It is important I do.

I walk past the bridge and turn into this nice little neighbourhood - predominantly residential, but there are businesses too. And I walk into my office. To do my work. My work involves writing stories of poor women who do small businesses - micro entrepreneurs. I write stories of how the loan has transformed their lives. I plan along with the rest of the team as to how we can add value to the loan that we give them. This is hard-core business. The business of transforming lives the best that we know how. Business of partnering with micro-entrepreneurs to improve their businesses, the lives of their families and their communities. The job is not always as romantic as it sounds… It can be disillusioning sometimes. Most of the times.

Walking through the market gives me an idea of what our clients' lives would be like. As I walk past them every morning, I imagine about what their life back at home would be like. They cease being just vendors selling their wares. They become to me faces of people who have hopes, dreams and love in their hearts. Possibly they face hardships. Seeing the huts and sewer keeps me grounded to reality. Seeing children in school uniform gives me hope.

I don’t think I help them in a tangible sense by buying their wares. Well, sometimes I do - when I need something. And I don’t think they are looking for free hand outs either. But realizing that they are human helps me look at them and to respect them.

p.s. - I like walking for another reason. I think a lot when writing. A lot of my blog ideas have come when I am walking or riding my bike.

p.p.s. - I promise I will write about Women's Day sometime soon.

Currently listening to - Shout God's Fame by Hillsong London

Currently reading - Footprints of Faith by Sonya Svoboda & Enjoying God by Andrew Brandon

1 comment:

Wolfsong said...

Ok I read your long post. People in cars are not cocooned! we're just in a different vehicle of experience :p
I suppose some of us like to deal with many things as we walk or ride, I for one, don't like to be interrupted when I walk which is why I like walking in clean, not-so-busy streets.
And about being reminded that the beggars are people too, is a very important lesson. It's sometimes hard, but important that we know and remember that. I don't like giving them money either because I don't believe they can do anything useful with it. But my friend taught me to try and give them food if I have any on me. I guess I should always keep a packet of biscuits with me. Then again, some of them curse you when you don't give them money!! Or if you don't give them enough money!