I unlocked the gate and slowly slid the door latch. A small noise from the rusty hinges erupted since I don’t use this back door very often. I was worried that the culprits would run away and all my efforts to catch at least one of them would be wasted.
The iron door was heavy and stiff. I pushed with all my might to open it. I was greeted by a death-like silence. I peeped through the space I had created between the wall and the door. A bunch of children were awaiting me-their worst nightmare. They looked at me, paralysed, spellbound and anxious. Their eyes widened and their heart began to pound heavily in their meager chests. With a calculated pace, I slowly made my way out of the door, like a hungry cat stalking the mouse it wants to devour.
A soft whisper swept through the children; I was planning to unleash my anger. I stepped out of the gate and was now in full view of them. The silence died suddenly in an outburst of shrieking flight. They left their cricket pitch and scattered themselves in all directions.
Hurriedly, and sharp-eyed with anger I peered for the weak link among them. Suddenly, I detected a thin child, standing near the gate of the opposite house. Instead of running away he was observing my moves. I had now found my target. Slowly, I stepped down to the road and walked towards him, giving him every opportunity to run away.
The children were aware of my intentions as I had shouted at them many a times for giving me sleepless holidays. They had chosen the place below my bedroom window as their playground and made the walls of the house shake with their joyful riots after school. They were all locals. The road beside my house hardly faces any traffic and has become the top place for gangs of roaring youngsters. The bright street light makes it a playing heaven even at night.
I crossed the road and gathered my pace towards the boy standing on the opposite end. The bright yellow light carved the lines and illuminated the deep sorrow that hung on his face. I could witness his eyes observing all my moves, and it seemed he was already prepared for the worst.
I caught him by his arm and asked him “Don´t you have any business but torturing honest people who want to get some rest in their homes?” Our eyes met. His eyes seemed to reflect my past, my own childhood. With a lifeless face and a heavy heart he answered “I was not involved.” I took this response as his trick, a lie to fool me. I looked at him with frustration pouring out of my eyes and then, I let go of his arm and said, “Go now”.
I stood there watching him from behind as he walked away. He was wearing a faded shirt and a small pair of trousers. The end of this trouser-leg was frayed into loose threads from being worn continuously. I looked at his feet. Bare. He probably had no shoes. The road was so hot that I couldn’t have imagined going barefoot at this time of the day. With little steps, he slipped out into the darkness.
Tears filled my eyes. I cursed myself for scolding a little destitute soul who possibly wouldn’t have anything to do with my frustration. The frustration that was growing within me, as I am confronted with the widespread poverty all around. At bus stops, near traffic signals, hospitals and the list is unending. It saddens me to see small children selling naphthalene balls, hair bands, cheap toys and kid’s dresses near Charminar. They don’t know what 2+2 adds up to, but they have learned that they have to sell to satisfy their hunger at the end of the day.
I feel dejected by our society when I see old age people begging for alms near traffic lights. They cannot walk but try to reach every rider, every passerby, to help themselves survive for the day.
Every day I read the newspaper, before leaving for work, and find beauty pageant posing with orphans as a new fashion, Page 3 displaying all the glorious parties in the town, big and colorful ads attracting consumers to their doorsteps, gossips about cricketers, politicians, celebrities and so on. However, the newspaper lacks news about the real Hyderabad. And it isn’t Hyderabad alone: it’s a reality of every growing city in India.
With great pain in my heart, I walked up the steps and entered my dining room, its table spread with every available delicacy. Before I could digest this reality, I went back, peeped out of the still-open gate-only to find that the little destitute soul had left forever…
(This article was published in Austrian literary magazine Driesch June 2010 issue.)