Yamin Tauseef Jahangir
Hitting a small tin can was the last thing on my mind as my cousin and I were walking down an alley, making our way home. Although winter had not yet arrived, it seemed to me that the fog had already done so, a little ahead of schedule, but nevertheless quite enough to chill my bones. I flipped up the collar of my windcheater and looked at my cousin. He was concentrating hard on hitting the tin can, having miserably missed it on a few occasions. Neither of us had a watch, and assumed the time to be around nine in the evening. I urged my cousin to let go off the can and move ahead. He frowned, since he was hitting it pretty accurately. I looked around the alley; it had a few streetlights, and the sodium lights made the whole scene appear abstract. It was as if we were walking towards an unknown destination. At first I didn't realize it, but later I saw that the alley was not empty; there were people there; people who had taken this place to be their home, people who thought that only this place could give them a good night's sleep; people who were homeless.
I felt a bit awkward since I have always been told that people mug you in the alleys and you face severe consequences if you show even the slightest sign of non-cooperation. As these thoughts sped through my mind, I started to observe these people. But when I looked into their eyes, I instantly knew that they were harmless. Their eyes were tired, full of sadness and subdued. A small family of four among these people already marked their territory by setting up a sort of a makeshift home. I saw the mother cooking in a corner as her children waited anxiously, doing their best to control their hunger for as long as they could. They were hardly moving at all and stared at the utensils intensely, waiting for the signal that would allow them to finally rush towards their food. The mother had a stony expression on her face.
I could somehow tell that she wasn't sure whether it would be enough to feed all the members of her family, or whether she would have to starve for yet another night. A few feet away from her, I saw a tea stall and my cousin, without giving a second thought, took long strides in that direction. I was in no hurry and decided to have some tea as well. I enjoyed the tea very much, being as cold as I was. I sat there and watched a group of urchins playing. They had small pebbles in their hands. God only knows what were they doing, but the smile they had on their faces was unique. I then realized, even in this cruel world, where these small kids have to face a harsh reality, they still find a reason to smile. They were oblivious to the world and were enjoying themselves to their hearts' content. One of the boys looked at me, and I motioned him to come near me. He hesitated for a while, but then advanced. I ushered him to sit on the bench and offered him a chocolate. His face lightened up. Maybe he had never had the opportunity to taste chocolate ever before. I looked at my cousin, and his eyes said it all: he too was feeling bad for these children, who could have had a wonderful future. I asked the kid whether he desired to go to school, and to my great surprise, he said 'no'! I was shocked. When I asked him why not, he said that his parents told him that the more educated a person becomes, the more corrupted he gets. In our country this is almost a trend, where the educated ones are the people who, after reaching a stage where they could serve the nation, end up becoming immersed in corruption.
Over so many years our nation has continually proven to other countries that we are adroit at corruption, and now it appears that we are perfectly content with this label of being corrupted to the core.
My cousin and I eventually started off towards our destination. Before leaving I offered some money to the mother. She refused at first, but I insisted because I knew she needed it badly. The life they led, under the sodium lights, may not be visible to most of us, but we should not that forget no matter how hard we try to avoid them, they are a part of us, and it's about time we realize this truth. I looked at the sky, adorned with beautiful stars. We are like those stars in a way; some of us shine brightly while others are just left to watch.
My cousin went back to kicking around can as we walked on into the starry night.
The writer is a student of East West University
Photo: Yamin T. Jahangir