‘What did the lady want?’
‘She wanted money.
‘Because some people don’t have any money.’
‘Well why didn’t you give her some mummy?’
Alula has been in Mumbai less than 20 hours and it’s not the heat or the noise or the smells that have blown her away. It’s the dresses. She doesn’t see the poverty or the outstretched arms begging for alms. She just sees the blues and the pinks and the reds and the greens of the Saris and thinks she’s arrived at a Barbie fashion convention. You think I’m joking but right now she’s standing on the coffee table in a sunhat, a pink tutu and with freshly painted red toenails and is choreographing a dance off between her Barbie, herself and her my little pony.
So her question gives me pause because it’s a valid question. It’s valid in her world because she thinks money just comes out of machines (whenever I remember my pin number that is) so why on earth wouldn’t they have money? And I guess she’s a budding communist or something which will please her grandfather no end.
But it’s also a valid question for me because like everyone says, there is no place like India for realising the quintessential truth about the unfairness of life and how fortunate you are (yeah, yeah cliché-tastic) So really I should distribute some of the wealth as my little Stalin would like me to. So why aren’t I?Why aren’t I reaching into my purse and pulling out the rupees? Is it because I’m already immune to the begging and the deformed limbs and the burnt scaley skin of babes in arms? Is it because the aggression with which they prod at you makes me switch off? Is it that because you can’t help everybody so you decide it’s easier to not help anybody? Is it because as Pooja says, most of the money doesn’t go to them, it goes to the mafia bosses who run the whole begging industry? Or is it that I’m just a hard hearted bitch? What did the Buddha do? That’s what I want to know.
In the end I tell her, ‘Because mummy and daddy give money to organisations, not people.’ Which is true.
‘What are organisations?’
I look at John but he doesn’t throw any lifelines my way. So the conversation continues via ‘heducation what’s that?’ to ‘why don’t people have jobs?’ to ‘why is that man (the rickshaw driver) wearing that funny hat?’ – ‘because he’s a muslim’ – ‘what’s muslim?’ – ‘It’s a religion’ – ‘what’s a religion?’ – ‘it’s like a fairy tale’ (that was John that last one).
So that’s Alula’s first 12 hours in Mumbai.