With my spoon about to break through the food placed in front of me, hovering in the mid-air, I was struck by the presence of a young boy desperately asking me to give my chocolate sundae to him. Here I entered McDonalds to buy myself dinner after what I thought was a long day and now I am is facing a mother-son duo, both seeking my food to stave off their hunger. I was lost in thoughts, gazing at the pair who looked at a picture of misery and despair.
Coming from India, where poverty and hunger is an everyday visible phenomenon for me, the sudden encounter with poverty in a country as wealthy as Switzerland, had left me reeling with shock. I did not know what I felt more shocked about- the identical expression of want on the face of mother and son or the breaking down of my own perception that everyone lives well in Switzerland. Actually, being surrounded by finery and wealth with people exuding a reflection of the same in Geneva, I never thought much about the poor in Switzerland. The thought never crossed in my mind that the people wearing clothes like shawls, scarves, boots and sweaters can be wearing these clothes and still be begging. These clothes are certainly a luxury for me because of my modest financial background in India. Actually, that day, some perceptions of mine broke. One was them was that poverty comes in the form of people wearing tattered, dirty and barely there clothes with a hand full of bowl extended in front of them, a picture of complete misery. That incident taught me that poverty comes in all forms and all kinds of people. One just needs to have the compassionate and observant eye in order to make out that distress which marks the pallor of these people, whatever and however they might appear to be. Just because I am not seeing the poor in the way I am used to or even have taken it granted for, it is not that they do not exist. They exist in every society and in every different form. Coming to think of it, even I am poor isn’t it? Not having any scholarship, not having any kind of job, but still munching away food bought from my father’s hard-earned money? Yes, even I represent a form of poverty, just not overt however.
I also learnt a lesson that day, both about myself and about the poor in general. The shock of having encountered two poor people in McDonalds who were trying to ask for food all the while keeping an eye for the staff who would cast them out, I realised that my pains and definitions of tiredness were nothing when compared to what those two people go through everyday. That day renewed in me a sense of compassion, understanding and humbleness. Whenever we think that we have the hardest burdens or are facing financial constraints, we have these people in front of us to remind us not only how privileged we are and how much of a duty we have in society towards those who are in most need. After all, even they have stomachs, even they feel hunger pains isn’t it? Only, they cannot hop onto Salsabeel or McDonalds when that happens. They have to keep on walking, enduring those pains and begging around till they get some shred of compassion or sympathy either in the form of some coins or a packet of cake or biscuit. And maybe, this realization was something that brought a smile to my face when I saw the mother and son joining the rest of their family with the son sharing the chocolate sundae with his baby sister who was squealing happily in her pram. Other people covertly expressed disapproval at the sight of me parting with my chocolate sundae. I, on the other hand could only smile as I walked towards home taking a last look at that family, about simply sharing my food with a young child and learning a lesson in humility.
Pingback: An (Unofficial) Graduate Press Guide to IHEID – The Graduate Press