Sun, 10 Dec, 2023

Life by the Road-Side: Nothing to Lose and Nothing to Gain

By Ashmita Kunwar

Photo: Life by the road-side             All Photos By: Ashmita Kunwar


While wandering here and there, intentionally or unintentionally, we come across some of the distinctive gears that might astonish us, arise unresolvable questions, unique feelings that could make life difficult to live. People with sensitive nature normally go through such storm of feelings. Yes, it is true that questions are complicated, but the answers are simple. However, it is just that the answers are difficult to know. Gautam Buddha devoted his whole life to get the answers of those questions that arose in his heart when he got the glimpses of heartrending scenes around him.

[caption id="attachment_5658" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]10thphoto Photo: Conversing with the roadside residers[/caption]

Same happened to me when I saw a group of people living by the road-side. Every time I passed by Gongabu, my eyes always hunted for them. I used to share this with my mother, and she used to say that that is how people are living; we are lucky, feel blessed. From the very day when I first saw them, I had thought of writing about them because that was the only way I could help them. I could help them by sharing their stories to the outside world - to those who think their life is not beautiful and that life is only about owning big houses and money.

On 27th March 2015 (Sunday), with two bags full of old clothes, I went to meet those people to get answers to all the questions that had overwhelmed me since the first day I saw them. I carried the old clothes along with me, because my mother had said to me that these people will ask for something in return for their answers. I reached there. Some of them were sleeping, some were cooking and some eating food.  I stood there for about fifteen minutes not doing anything at all, because they only understood Hindi which I am not good at. But, I tried. In my broken Hindi, I approached a man. I asked him, “May I ask you something, will you answer me?”. He replied, “Okay, but what will you provide me in return?”. I replied “I have two bags full of clothes; I will share this among you all. However, at first you need to answer the questions asked. ” I started asking them questions that intrigued me, and here goes the real story of life by the road-side.

Who are they and where are they from?

[caption id="attachment_5659" align="aligncenter" width="980"]Photo: The first I had of their usual life Photo: The first glimpse I had of their usual life[/caption]

They do not tend to share where they are actually from. From my conversation, I was able to make out that they are originally from India, but they do not feel confident to readily share this with us. They fear that they might be treated harshly if they get recognized as Indians. Also, one group over there said that they are from Nepaljung and Bardiya, and that their house and property were engulfed by landslide. They had nowhere to go, and so, they have been living there. They mentioned that it has been 9 years since they have been living by the side of roads like they do in Gongabu. Previously, they used to have tents, but later Metropolitan police disallowed them from putting tents. From then on, they have been living under open sky. When it’s time to sleep and when there is heavy rainfall, they go to nearby pavements of shops in order to take shelter. Besides that, they spend their whole day by the roadside where they cook food, eat, put their stuff and do everything else.

[caption id="attachment_5660" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]2ndphoto Photo: Their usual start to a day[/caption]

Daily Routine

[caption id="attachment_5661" align="aligncenter" width="984"]3rdphoto Photo: A woman with a child heading off to beg for the day[/caption]

They have a completely different routine that might take us by surprise. They wake up at about 6 am and just stay in their place until people start emerging out of their homes. After that, they are assigned different tasks. Young men and women who do not have to look after small children visit different places to collect plastics which they sell and earn money. Whereas, other women with small children beg for money by roaming around their place. In order to gain the attention of people, almost all women carry small children along with them. And there's yet another group, which consists of small children who carry small bowls and roam around bus parks begging for money. This is what they do. The money that they collect from their activities during the entire day is spent on doing whatever they want. At night, they again gather in the same place, which they consider their home.

What do they do if they get sick?

[caption id="attachment_5663" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]4thphoto Photo: A sick woman who had delivered a dead baby five days ago[/caption]

The above photo is of a woman who delivered a dead baby five days ago. In our community, such women are provided with maximum care but there, she was sleeping directly on the floor in cold. That was one of the pathetic situations there. When I asked her if she had visited any hospital, she said, “I don’t have any food to eat. How do I go to the hospital?.” Her situation was critical, at least as far as I think. However, they do not think the same way as I do. I must say, they have high adaptability. They say that only if their condition is highly critical, they go to a hospital. Otherwise, they treat themselves. They even give birth there on the road; they do not feel good going to the hospital.

How many children does a single couple have?

[caption id="attachment_5688" align="aligncenter" width="943"]5th Photo: Motherhood[/caption]

A couple who are not beyond 35 years have minimum of four children with 1-2 years of difference between each child. Almost every woman there has a small baby in her arms. Normally, when children grow up, parents start to get tensed about which school they should be sending their children to and so forth. But in their case, they have nothing to worry about. They are instead happy thinking that as the child grows they will have one more economic source. The children are taught to beg for money; when I was there, most of them were out begging for money. It was like going to school for them - a regular activity. Instead of having copies and pencils in their hand, they carried an open hand and begged for money the entire day. Also, some of them are taught to wash dishes from their childhood.

[caption id="attachment_5652" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]6thphoto Photo: A child washing dishes[/caption]

Sexual Life:

Seeing many children there, questions regarding what kind of sex education, if any, do they have flooded my mind. I wasn’t confident to ask them such questions but I tried. Slowly, I got close with a group of women and asked them some questions, “Don’t you have difficulties while giving birth? You have so many children, how do you bear the pain?." One of the women replied shyly, “Pati jo chahatey hein, wohi karna padega hum ko, hum kuch nahi kar saktey, bahut muskil hota hey hum ko baccha paida karna”, which means “Whatever the husband demands, we must obey; we can’t deny them or say anything against our husband’s wishes." They said that they suffer a lot when they give birth. I asked again, “Do you know about contraceptives that can prevent you from being pregnant?”. When I said this they were shocked; they had no idea what condoms were. They even told me that they do not know whether they are pregnant; only when their belly grows in size do they realize it. They have no idea about the current day or date, or when the month gets completed and when the date is for their monthly period.

Are they content with their life?

[caption id="attachment_5653" align="aligncenter" width="971"]7thphoto Photo: This man said, "I am happy with whatever I have."[/caption]

Yes! Almost everyone whom I spoke to were satisfied with the life that they were living. They said that they have no any choice, no alternatives; they have been living in such life style for many years and now it has come to be normal for them. They do not expect anything else in their life besides living by the road. When I asked them if they wanted to live in a house, they replied that they don’t wish for things that are never going to happen.

Do they wish for anything in future?

Almost all of them are uneducated there, and they do not even wish for education for their children. They directly did not say no, but it seemed like they don’t dream about educating their children. They implied that they will not have any guilt if their children live the same kind of life that they are living at present. The open road is all they have; they have nothing to lose and nothing to gain in their life.

[caption id="attachment_5655" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]8thphoto Photo: Donating clothes[/caption]

As most of the children were out to collect money, I personally could not ask the children anything. After asking questions, they were requesting me money. I said that I did not have any, but I shared some clothes among them. They were demanding for more clothes in the days to come. One lady requested me for a cream that will make her look white, so that she could get married soon. Unfortunately, I was not carrying anything as such.

[caption id="attachment_5657" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]9thphoto Photo: This woman said, "I am unable to marry because I have a dark complexion."[/caption]

I was amazed seeing them enjoy their life in the absence of so many vital things that we crave for. They are happy enough, neither do they regret anything in their life nor do they want anything, all they want is food to eat and a road to live on. They could have wished for so many things in their life but they never want to be sad by dreaming about things that are never going to happen.

When we compare our life with theirs', we do not have any reason to be sad. However, we are never satisfied because from the very beginning of our life we are taught to crave for more and more. People around us keep pushing us to want more. They say, “You should be first in your classroom. You have to work more for more money. You have to……” and the list continues. But in their case, they are taught to beg for money and this is how they are living. Yes, no doubt we are fortunate that we have everything in our life, but we are equally unlucky because owning everything in our life, most of the time, we feel ill-fated; we don’t know how to make most out of what we have. Put simply, comparatively, we are greedy rich people.

After knowing their lifestyle, I have nothing more to say. Simply, I urge everyone to be happy with what they have. Life is beautiful even if you live under open sky by the road. BE HAPPY :)