Wednesday, January 21, 2004

I am guilty of a terrible thing. It was slapped in my face with a jarring crash today, and it weighs upon my soul.
Coming home on a beautiful, rainy misty day, layered in lambswool and pashmina and parachute windbreaker, snug in my seat, eating McDonald's fries, humming along with the songs on the stereo. Car stops at Kalma Chowk and a little boy- he must have been five or six- is barefoot. In the rain, in the freezing wind. On the road with no shoes on, nothing on his little body except for a thin brown shalwar kameez. Clutching one soggy newspaper this little boy was shivering worse than a bowl of jelly, his hair plastered to his head, his feet curled up as he made his way down the aisles between cars.The fries stuck in my throat as Amma rolled down the window and we all pulled out our wallets. He had no sweater, no shoes and according to him, no parents.

We know it isn't fair that some people have everything and some people don't. We have read countless stories, articles, letters to the editor about child labour and begging. We know, and yet our stupid, petty lives revolve around idiot things like grades, our love lives, whether to go to the Jal concert or the Noori one. I am ashamed, and so incredibly guilt-ridden. I live in a beautiful house with big bay windows and pine trees outside. I am perfectly healthy. There is always food on the table, hot water in the taps, washing-machine cleaned clothes in my closet, medicine when I'm sick. What problems do I have? That I don't like economics. That I don't feel like eating biryani for lunch, lets have pizza instead. That my knee aches sometimes, but since the best orthopedic surgeon in the country took a look at it, I shouldn't worry too much about. That the tailor made the kurtas into kameezes. That I don't have enough space in my room for all the books I have. That I still don't know how to play the guitar. That I am sad sometimes because things in my perfect life don't always fall into place nicely like everything else. What the hell is going on? I have everything anyone could ever want; a family who loves me, friends that miss me when I'm gone, some kind of palpable talent, a closetful of clothes- hell, even my goddamn socks are from America! What business do I have even imagining that I need more, what right do I have to ask Allah Miyaan for this and that and oh, that too if you don't mind pleasepleaseplease when there are little boys like today's out there? How dare I have the temerity to even presume that the issues in my life are so all-consuming and important?

Its terrible, the way we can talk and talk about how bad it is for kids like these, how evil consumerism is, how everyone should be socialist, everyone should have roti kapra aur makaan; sitting in our posh university offices, smoking our sixty-rupee-a-pack Bensons, walking down the perfect paved roads in the most upscale area in Lahore in our Nike sneakers and hoodies after a bite at HotSpot. All we do is talk, the bunch of sophists that we've become, all of us are just a lot of spoilt, sissy rich kids full of hot air and I want to go to Columbia, I want another guitar, I want a car, I want a new cell phone, its okay to be drunk as long as you don't get too drunk, oh, I hate economics, lets bunk and go for a drive. We think we carry the troubles of the world upon our sagging, wise shoulders because we are aware of how horrible a place this world is. No, we don't know. We don't know jack shit about the 'real world' we think we've seen at parties and in the lives other rich kids like us lead. What are we turning into- what have we become? "Maaf kardo, eik to these beggars, its all a racket to exploit children and make money, they're asal main really rich you know". Really? Tell that to the kid on the street whose hands were icy cold. Tell that to every flower-selling Pathan child who taps your window after you leave a restaurant, a thousand-rupee dinner in your stomach. Tell that to the maimed kid with the crutches who can hear the thump of your sub-woofer but will be irritably waved away. Tell that to every kid who's picking at a rubbish heap while you sit inside at your dinner table and whine about how you're sick of eating chicken every day.
I'm not saying begging is condonable. I'm saying we need to open our eyes and realize how lucky we are, every moment of every day, that we live the way we do. So what if we don't always have what we want? Have we ever been grateful- really, truly grateful- for the countless things we do? Do we ever take the time out to say thank you to God, to our parents, the khansama, even- to the people around us who make our lives what they are today?

Charity starts at home; today I know what that really means.

Mina at 6:21 PM