Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why are you crying?

Late one evening in Haridwar, my wife and I were enjoying a walk on a bridge over the Ganges. There were no crowds at that time, and we got to enjoy the fast-flowing river in peace. There was a food vendor in a trolley preparing Indian and Chinese items, and the aroma was rekindling hunger. It had been 3 hours since dinner.

The food cart on the bridge was well lit and looked clean, so we ordered a plate each. The food was great, but I couldn’t enjoy it because standing just 5 feet from the cart, in the dark, there was a woman in her twenties who was sobbing visibly.
"Why is she crying?" I eventually asked the food vendor.
He was dismissive. "Oh, her. People like her come to Haridwar all the time and are crying." His body language and tone indicated that I should simply ignore it.

But it was difficult to ignore her. After we had eaten, I asked my wife to check on her.
"Miss, what happened? Why are you crying?" my wife asked the young woman in Hindi.
"I am hungry," she said, and continued to cry.
In India, we have been hit up for food a few times, so we had a routine of sorts. Our rule was to not give out money, opting to buy them food instead.
"Okay, I will buy you a loaf of bread," my wife told her.
"Nahin Chahiye." I don't want that.
We also had a Plan B.
"Will you have fruit? We will buy you bananas." A dozen bananas costs the same as a loaf of bread.
"Nahin Chahiye." The tears continued streaming.
Now we were out of options.
"What do you want?" my wife asked her.
"That," she said, pointing to the food cart.
"Chow mein?!"
"Yes," she said nodding.

My wife looked at me. The request was a bit unusual, but understandable. The aroma of Chinese cooking would have been torturous to the woman. We had both just finished a plate each, and it didn’t seem right to refuse her.

I pulled out a few rupees and walked back to the vendor. "Please make her a plate of chow mein," I told him.
He looked at me, but didn’t say anything. When he accepted my money there was an almost imperceptible shake of his head. I know what the shake meant -- You-guys-will-fall-for-this-every­-time is what he wanted to say.

Maybe so. But he made great chow mein, and she was hungry.
"He will now make a plate for you," my wife told the woman.

I was slightly surprised because the woman didn’t thank us, or even look at us. She walked over and stood next to the cart. But she had stopped crying.

No comments:

Post a Comment