It is by mere chance some of us are born into good families. Had there be a little miscounting by God, we would have been part of that society we call 'below poverty line'.
As a child born into a vegetarian family, I was told that if I eat chicken, I would be born as a chicken in my next birth and chicken will be born as a human and eat me! I now wonder if I will be born to an impoverished family in my next birth, because of my apathy towards the poor.
Poverty does not indicate a lack of wealth. A poor person struggles all his life from morning to night, and continues doing so until he dies. His goals are simple: shelter and the next meal for him and his family, and he spends his entire life trying to fulfill this goal. Any wonder people call poverty a curse?
I remember seeing some poor people baking bricks under sun in a remote place in Hyderabad. These workers come from all parts of India. I met a family from Orissa who migrate every summer to Andhra Pradesh to work in a brick kiln. They have a fair amount of land back home, but the land is a sad mother that cannot give anything to her children because she is struck by drought.
The workers wake up before the sun rises, dig earth, make bricks and then bake them. Once the sun reaches high in the sky and the heat gets unbearable, they take rest in a shelter, make broken rice and eat while waiting for the sun to calm down. At about 5 p.m, they restart their work - and often continue well past midnight if it is a moonlit night. They get a mere Rs 60 - 100 for making and laying a thousand bricks, and the family works as a unit.
I met a girl who had covered her body with a shawl. When I asked her why she had chosen this garment in such hot weather, she told me she had only one dress, which she treasured and wore only on Saturdays, when they go to the market. The next time your child rough handles his clothes, tell him this story and teach him to respect his possessions.
Visiting the market is indeed an event for the families. Although all they can afford is broken rice, salt and onion, they spend some time wandering around and gazing wishfully at vegetables, fruits and groceries - just bright sights.
Yet, many of us take poverty for granted. We turn the other way when we see a beggar, because we are immune to their demands. This does not mean that begging should be encouraged, as beggars often resort to extreme measures for gaining sympathy - like pinching babies to make them cry and waving distorted body parts (which may or may not be really maimed) in our faces. Giving alms is not a solution, and should be discouraged at every step. However, each of us definitely should try and do our bit for the poor, in whatever way we can, and we should teach our children to do the same. After all, we are what we are because of our parents, teachers and the countless poor who performed innumerable tasks for us, enabling us to focus on the larger picture.
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