Bureaucrat ASHUTOSH AGNIHOTRI pens a poem for a fundraising dinner organised by Utsah, an NGO, committed to the cause of children living in slums
One evening on a sweltering day, many many years ago
When I with my friends stopped for a cool refreshing drink
A sweet feeble voice called me in imploring hopefulness
A voice so distinct that it could not go unnoticed or ignored,
there stood a little girl with her two little brothers
Shabbily dressed, the tatters unable to hide their dusty darkness
Their hair all messed up and unkempt, their feet without a cover
Standing in stoical indifference to the still blazing ground.
I could see and hear a groaning hunger on their vacant faces
The little girl extended her tiny hand, looking once into my eyes
And then shifting the gaze to her expectant palm.
Inadvertently, I started searching for a coin of such denominator
Which would unburden my heart without burdening my purse
I found it and kept it on the palm which had a crisscross
Of lines, all suggesting hunger, sorrow and privation.
The eyes lit up, the faces smiled and the feet had a spring
And they ran to a vendor to get what could barely
Tantalise their taste buds leaving them as unsatisfied as
the crisscross of lines on their hands had wanted them to be!
I too smiled with them, feeling light and happy on giving
Them a fleeting moment of apparent delight and satisfaction.
when I returned home and got back to my normal world
Where I had no liberty to indulge in luxury, but had enough to
Meet my needs, to think of tomorrow, to chase my dreams
I perhaps forgot about the three little children who would
Go back to some other person and implore in rehearsed hopefulness
Sometimes getting the odd coin, sometimes not
sometimes getting a cold stare,Indifference or abuse.
I wish there were only those three children so that I could
Conveniently forget them, but there are more, many more, countless
Like them, who remind me every moment of the three little children,
Their hunger so loud and intimidating, their anguish so accentuated
Their innocence so compromised in their rehearsed hopefulness.
Their eyes do not have dreams of tomorrow, but the nagging
Fear of today, of the next moment which could be even hungrier.
Their voice doesn’t sing, their hands do not write or paint
Their feet do not dance or run, but all conjoin in a jarring taunt
That just as I did find a coin then, I shall find some coins even now
To unburden my soul, to remove a page, a patch, a blot,a scene
From my otherwise lovely, happy, dreamlike musical world.
I did not have the courage then, but will I have it now,
to gently touch that palm,To strongly hold that hand,
to lift that little girl reassuringly,And to tell her that
whatever the crisscross of lines may mean or suggest my child
I shall not let these hands struggle in search of jaded coins
I shall not let these eyes look for kind looking faces
And these tender feet pain with the blisters of time.
Do I have the courage to say that, do u have the courage to say that?