He fit into the palm of her emaciated hands. He should have been as big as her forearms, but there he was. Like a palm baby. She knelt over him, her hair matted, her belly distended, rocking back and forth, trying to keep her coughing infant alive.
We passed her and one of us did a double take. The double-taker told us there was a pregnant 13 year old on the pavement with a tiny dying child in her arms. We looked at the pair of them and gasped, then went on to have flavoured milk a few steps away. I couldn't get the image of that tiny baby out of my head, so I bought a bag of milk so the mother could drink it and breast feed the baby. Milk handed over, we went on our way.
Coming home I cursed myself for not having done more. My grandmum had given me a ton of money for diwali and I had bought em a packet of milk, nothing more. The least I could have done, I thought, was give her Rs. 500.
But then I thought the Rs. 500 would last her a few days only, so I decided to try and get them to a shelter. Called up some NGOs, found a place that might take the pair of them.
Went back the next day to look for palm baby and his mother, I couldn't find them anywhere. So I asked a jhola seller if she knew about them.
Was the baby really that woman's I asked. Thats all it took to get her started.
That woman told me more than I learnt about begging in the course of researching for my project.
So the woman was rocking back and forth because she was high on smack. The baby was dying because the woman wasn't his mother, she fed him milk people like me gave her instead of breast feeding him, and he couldn't/can't digest it. The palm baby was given to the lady by her sister. The strategy was to use the baby to "earn" money, and then split the earnings.
She told me that that lady and other beggars duped people, and those that were naive and had a heart gave them money. They duped, she said, not to earn a living, but to blow up whatever they earned (anything from Rs. 500 to 1500 a day) on smack. The palm baby lady even stole money from other beggars. If I'd have given her Rs. 500, thats where it would have gone. (She added ruefully that she engaged in honest labour and didn't earn that much in days.)
So I asked her, what if I asked the police to take the baby away? She said the police doesn't do much because they can't do much. If they take dupers into custody, the addicts start to die without their drugs and the officers are questioned by their superiors.
So, I said, the superiors really tick them off for not showing daya to the beggars? Oh yes, she says.
So, I said, this kid is going to die eh? She said yeah, they'll find another the day after this one goes. India's future she said- the educated higher class people are blowing up their lives on expensive nasha; the uneducated, poverty stricken people are blowing up their's, and their children's lives on cheaper nasha.
Thus, palm corpse. Palm baby's going to turn into palm corpse from diarrhoea in a few days.
I asked her if the beggars at the traffic light at least were earning honourably, so to speak. She said they pretend to sell stuff to you, and when you look away, they steal. What about the magazine sellers, I asked. She said they don't steal, they sell to survive.