“Madam ji, gulab le lo, sirf dus rupaiye”, saying this a hand clutching a pair of red roses sneaked in through the window of the auto-rickshaw I was sitting in. It was a traffic signal at Hauz Khas (Delhi) which just turned red when the auto I took had to pass the lane. Damn it. I had to reach Katwaria Sarai positively at 10:00 am and it was already five minutes to ten while the journey takes at least fifteen long minutes. It seemed like thirty seconds of the wee tot time I had to reach my destination, was wasted by the traffic light. Indeed, this was in accordance with the lyrics of the song christened “Ironic” which said “traffic jam, when you’re already late”. I let out a sigh at the thought of this while another hand came in through the same window, to bring me back to consciousness, importuning me to buy a toy airplane, which I was sure I do not need. I shook my head, in a stringent manner in order to shoo the twosome off.
The duo had scarcely left when another face appeared at the other side of the auto, who extended his arms to show hand-fans which were of “barhiya quality” in his opinion. Ridiculed by the hot weather of mid-June and the unmoving vehicles, my absorption obliged me to say the words “how irritating” while I wiped the perspiration that poured off my forehead. The vendor left outright with a scornful look in his eyes for me whilst I realized that my words offended him; and although this disdainful act of mine was entirely unintentional but it left me remorseful for the rest of the day.
I looked for the person, through the window but in vain. All that I saw was cars and auto-rickshaws awaiting the traffic-light to turn green, which now showed fourteen seconds left.
These vehicles were surrounded by small children and men who were striving to win over the people inside the vehicles, pronouncing that the products they were selling were of the best quality available in the market. More children-vendors were running towards us with smiles on their innocent faces. Their beaming eyes were telling their common story. This busy city, which never halts for anything or anyone, where thousands of vehicles hurry down this route in an hour, the traffic signal turns red for only half a minute which seems like ages; and in these thirty seconds they live a lifetime. They wait all day for a sign of red and that red luminance enlightens their faces with hope; hope of getting their products sold, hope of earning a ten-rupee note or two, hope of getting a square repast, hope of earning enough amount to be saved so that one day they can attend school too without worrying about the hungry babies on the laps of their weeping mothers. They must not be pitied upon; they are not beggars but earners, a part of the proud flesh and blood who work for a living. So, how are they different than us? The rich populace may be clad in expensive attire but so are these poor vendors clad in priceless dignity. Indeed, we are educated and they are not, but what is the use of this education if we cannot tell apart the earners and the beggars, if we do not respect the poor, if we do not care for our fellow-beings, if we demoralize them by not buying their inexpensive items, if we do not help them to lead a better future? It is not that we cannot, it is just that we do not; it is just that we get so busy in our lives that we seldom think about others.
A chill ran down my spine when I viewed myself with their perspective and the face of the hand-fan-vendor appeared again, insisting the passenger of the auto standing in front of mine, to buy one of his hand-fans.
I instantaneously called him and took out a ten-rupee note from my purse to buy one of those fans. He turned towards me and with a hesitating look, commenced to approach me. I was glad he did and I extended my arm in a manner to hand him the currency note.
And just when that person put out his hand to give me a fan and accept the note, the traffic signal turned green, the auto-rickshaw engine started and the vehicle drove off. I shouted, “Stop” but the driver laughed my worried cry off and said “Kya Madam ji, aage aur aise pankhe mil jayenge”.
I looked through the window behind my seat only to realize that I offended that vendor all over again….
This post was published in Youth Ki Awaaz under the name of Thirty Seconds of Hope: At The Red Signal at http://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2012/08/thirty-seconds-of-hope-at-the-red-signal/