Skip to content


July 26, 2011

I have started this post so many times. It never gets past a few sentences in my head – it has never tasted paper. It might not be easy to read and it certainly will not be easy to write. So, please, bear with me.

So much of this blog has been focused on figuring out the “so what” of our Indian experience. Why were we sent there. What were we meant to learn. And why am I still writing about it over a year later.

One of my friends told me recently that she was trying to decipher what she was meant to learn from my stories. This might not just be about me? Holy life experience, Bat Man. No pressure. 😎

Well this post is meant to be a transition. Back to where I am now. And a jump start to where I am meant to be.

Won’t this be fun? Sure. Seatbelts on, please.

I have written about the Taj Mahal and petting tigers and climbing the Great Wall of China. And about having staff. Blech. And making friends – then leaving them. And of breathing in India.

But the story that has been left unwritten is this one. How India, like oxygen, has seeped deep into my pores and will not leave. About what haunts me still and about exploring what I have not changed about myself since leaving Delhi. And how I am not proud of some of that.

These are the stories that I have been unable to share. I am not sure if this will be a single post or a mini series of stories. It will be interesting for me to see how it unfolds and I hope for you too.

Here is the first memory that I cannot erase.

I was with one of my absolute most favorite people in India. A generous, caring, loving friend who got me through some long, tough days.

We were going shopping in Janpath. Her driver was driving. There was a lot of traffic.

Our car was stopped at a traffic light and there was a woman begging.  My friend’s driver had told us before not to give to beggars.

I personally found comfort in that. Here is someone in India who knows India telling us not to buy into the begging. My driver said the same thing. We had been given permission to ignore the suffering on the street. Permission that was granted not by a wealthy merchant dismissing the struggles of the lower caste, but granted by a working man who had his own struggles. Who knew that life in India is not ever easy. Who knew how much we had to offer and encouraged us to say no.

Yeah. and Thank You.

Then the woman knocked on the window. There was no way to guess her age or her story. She looked tired and worn down. She was dusty and dirty. Her eyes were empty. Her teeth were stained. Her clothes were tattered. Honestly, I would not have dusted my furniture with what she was wearing. Her hair had not seen water in weeks. And probably neither had her lips or her belly. It was over 100 degrees outside – and no, it was not a dry heat. It was a hot heat. Melting hot with sticky on the side.

She wanted money. And we had money. She knew it.

What to do now?

After some discussion, my friend cracked her window and handed the woman a single coin. Just this time, we thought.

Her hands must have felt the coolness of the air conditioning and the real potential for generosity and she threw the coin back. It wasn’t enough. She wanted more.

My friend and I could not believe what was happening.

Her driver smiled with that “I told you so” look.

His slightly raised stature as a driver gave him permission to distance himself from sympathy as well. And now, looking back, I wonder if he really felt that way or if he thought we simply expected him to feel that way. I am not sure. Maybe a little bit of both.

The woman would not remove her hand from the crack in the window. She tapped the fingers on her other hand against her thumb and cupped them to her mouth. I didn’t understand her words but her actions were clear. She was having none of our selfishness. None of it.

She wanted more.

My friend and I both shook our heads “no” and were absolutely baffled at how she could be so ungrateful. Out of sheer nervousness, we even giggled. That must have lit a fire in her desperateness. We really, truly were not laughing at her. We just did not know what to do. What to say. How to move forward.

My friend’s driver told my friend to roll up the window the rest of the way. She tried to but the woman would not remove her hand. She even gripped the side of the glass. Leaving smudges along the edge. Smudges that my friend’s driver would later simply wipe away – as if it never happened. As if we could forget. As if the woman did not exist. As if the woman didn’t really need our help. As if so many things.

But that woman would not go away. She wanted more from these nicely dressed ladies in their air conditioned car.

The driver said something….the woman responded. And finally…thankfully… the light turned green.

Yet her hand remained. The car started rolling and the woman started walking. Gripping tighter. Until ultimately she had to let go…she had to give up.

I know all that comes with this story. That helping that one person would not have changed the world. It would not have even changed her world. Now matter what we gave her in that moment, she would have remained dirty and tattered on the side of that road begging for help as a daily ritual.

In the moments after, I am sure I even argued that the woman had two good hands and two good legs and she should be working.

I struggle now with what it was about that moment that hardened me rather than softened me. What did I need the money in my wallet for? Why didn’t I accept  insist that she needed it more and that whatever was waiting for me at Janpath could wait and wait and wait and I would never miss not having it.

How did I laugh – even out of sheer nervousness – in the face of all that was in front of me? Really, how?

It is a mystery that haunts me still and the story yet to come is even worse.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2011 10:59 am

    I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

  2. Lynn permalink
    July 28, 2011 8:50 am

    You may have been haunted by the beggar woman and I by my beggar man, but now I’m haunted by my previous post/comment because I don’t do this often and there posts can be misunderstood. I was just relating to your situation. I love your writing and your thought-provoking subject matter!

    • July 28, 2011 9:00 am

      Oh no – your reaction was just what this post is about – a chance for us to think about how we handle a given situation. And what we can/should do differently next time. If anything or everything. ❤

  3. Lynn permalink
    July 28, 2011 8:33 am

    Very good.
    Coming home on the DC metro from my recent train trip from Charleston, I was approached by a homeless man while I sat on the moving metro. While I did not give him money, I decided to really LOOK at him…acknowledge him as a person. I asked him about the shelters, told him about one I knew. He gave me excuses, likely valid, about lice and theft. I offered him my power bar but he said he couldn’t chew it. Of course not, he didn’t have many teeth. I LOOKED at him, TALKED to him because I felt safe enough in that metro car for that quick exchange….but my fellow passengers were all staring…and then they averted their eyes as he proceeded down the aisle. He became invisible again. I never know the best way to handle beggars but I do know that I when I say no, I will try to be brave enough to LOOK at them at least.

    • July 28, 2011 8:58 am

      You probably were the only person who talked to him – acknowledged him. It’s so hard to know what to do. I hate it when people become invisible – it is so sad how they can just disappear right in front of our eyes.

  4. poupee97 permalink
    July 27, 2011 5:57 am

    The thing is, she threw it back. If she really really needed it, she wouldn’t have thrown it back. If she wasn’t that desperate, it was all a sham.

    • July 28, 2011 8:56 am

      I probably told/tell myself that too but the reality of it is that if she is part of a sham then she is not only desperate but probably in danger if she doesn’t produce. I know completing that cycle only perpetuates it but it is hard to look back on that memory and be proud of any part of it.

  5. Ann permalink
    July 26, 2011 9:59 pm

    I think the lesson is that the memory is now etched in your soul. Every opportunity that presents itself to you for your turn at generosity will reel you back to that moment in time and your generosity will continue in abundance. She was your catalyst for giving and thinking of others as I’ve so often seen you do with ease and grace; never expecting anything in return. So even with the ugliest of memories, beautiful moments can be paid forward. That, my friend, is a beautiful thing.

    • July 28, 2011 8:54 am

      It just bothers me such much that I could get frustrated with someone in need. That I with more than I need, could diminish her want for more.

  6. July 26, 2011 1:18 pm

    That was a horrific tale, told beautifully. It speaks to so many facets of the drama of being human, the tragedy and comedy of it all. How ridiculous it all is…and random, and absurd. And I’m sure you have tons of these tales for once we step out of our cozy safe pockets of love and familiarity, there’s nothing but these stories, one more horrible, or beautiful, than the next.. I think the hardening that this haunting has inspired is altogether healthy. There was no way a writer, a woman with your sensitivity and intelligence, could have gone to India and not have changed (or been changed.) Giving (or not) to the needy is not the issue. Like you said, what you had the capacity to give, as far as money is concerned,would not have changed that woman’s circumstances significantly if at all. I think the importance of that story lies in your questioning of who you are. The woman was merely a looking glass. A brief glimpse at the real reason2write…I think you probably laughed because the disfigurement of the soul you saw reflected, a soul that by happenstance was on the inside of that window instead of the outside, was bloody comical. The comedy of madness. Your laughter was by no means at the woman’s desperation, but at your own. A desperate need to make sense of the chaotic, to answer questions you hadn’t even formed yet. But i suspect the questions will take form, in the days to come. and that’s basically the best we’re gonna get, cuz answers, definitive unarguable ones, are far and few between.i look forward to reading the tales to come!

  7. July 26, 2011 12:31 pm

    Thanks Nancy.

  8. Nancy permalink
    July 26, 2011 11:44 am

    Wow. Powerfully told. Gave me chills and will make me think down the road about turining my back to the needy. Thanks for sharing.


  1. Unwritten part 2……………….. « A Reason To Write

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: