On Friday, I decided to treat a few of my friends with pizza in exchange for cake and a possible gift. And so, after college, we all trotted to Domino’s pizza.
As soon as we got there, I noticed a kid, no more than seven in age, piercing through the glass and looking at us. As soon as I met his gaze, he signalled he was hungry. With him were other younger kids as well that I assumed were his siblings. They didn’t look very healthy or well looked after – their clothes were torn, hair unkempt, body unclean.
One of my principles is to never give kids money, because more often than not, it never is used for them. Another principle of mine is to never ignore anyone who is geunienly in need. So, I decided to get them pizza. It was a spectacularly slow day at Domino’s since they were running low on staff but they did get the kids their pizza as we cut the cake. Calling them inside, and giving them a table to settle down at, I gave them the pizza and ketchup. One cheeky little kid turned around, barely able to hold the hot pizza, and mumbled “aunty, thumbs up”
Apart from being a little embarrassed to have been called aunty, I knew they wanted a fizzy drink. Why not, I thought, and got them their coke. And so, they had their pizza at the cost of burning their tongues and ended up spilling coke in efforts to distribute it equally. They wouldn’t let me touch it, and I had to respect that.
While they ate, I asked the staff at Domino’s where the kids lived. One guy told me that their lived on the streets. They weren’t orphans, no, their parents were rag pickers and couldn’t afford a house. And so, like millions of people, they lived beneath buildings to shelter themselves from the rains. We were wondering if we could get help for them, get them into a orphanage or contact a NGO. But knowing the beareucracy that goes into getting kids into the child welfare system in India, we knew it was next to impossible to help them out in a substantial way. The glimmer of hope in me was the fact that the girl borrowed a plastic bag from me to store her and her brothers’ school uniforms.
They left, and we got back to what we were doing, i.e. creating a ruckus with our loud, obnoxious talks. Not long after though, entered two more kids who wanted pizza as well. Sitting them down, I ordered another pizza for the three and six something-year-olds. I assumed it would go the same way as before, but not really. The younger one was cute as a button, sure, but man was he notorious. He asked for money, and the elder one ended up having to shut him up. Eventually, they were both on the floor of Domino’s punching and choking each other. We had to physically separate them and threaten to not give pizza to have them wait patiently and not hit each other.
We had ordered our pizzas before theirs and had finished eating. However, we waited for them to give the kids their pizza. When the two kids were waiting outside, someone had tried to shush them away from standing on the pavements because apparently only the rich have the right to use public property. We didn’t want the people in Domino’s treat the kids unjustly, and had to make sure they’d get their food.
Didn’t quite work like we’d planned. The kids insisted they take the pizza out and eat it, and no matter how much we tried to reason with them, they wouldn’t listen. Finally, giving in, we let them carr it out and watched as they took tiny steps into a shady little alley. A part of me wanted to make sure the kids got their food and someone didn’t cruelly snatch it away, but that wasn’t possible for me to do.
And so, I left with a heavy heart. These were kids who lived in immense poverty and endured the worst situations. And even though all of them had gone through simislar conditions, their behaviour had stark differences. While some were kind and patient, the others were violent and unruly. However, how could I blame the three year old? All that he said and did, he must have learned from what he saw around him. It was heartbreaking to realise that while people like my friends and I were sheltered and protected all our lives, these kids are exposed to aggression and cruelty since birth.
But again, when he grows up, isn’t it going to be his responsibility to keep his behaviour in check? Not everything can be let go of by blaming social and economic factors, not everything can be ignored. Truth of the matter is, eventually, everyone has to be accountable for their behaviour. Those of raised in a certain way find it easy, but it must be so much more difficult to learn and acquire right behaviours when you have been witnessing the contrary for all your life.
And what about the fact that kids shouldn’t have to ask for food in front of strangers anyway? They shouldn’t have to be looking into restaurants, hoping someone tosses them leftovers. They shouldn’t have to be living on the streets. They shouldn’t be subject to atrocities from the general public.
How do we possibly deal with the situation? While some people like us can easily afford to buy ten people over priced pizzas, most can’t get their hands on enough nutrition. While some of us have colour coordianted rooms, most don’t have a roof over their head. While some of us have closets overflowing with the most ridiculous items, most don’t have one set of good clothes.
How do we ever bridge the gap?