I was reading my very brief journal I kept in India, and was reminded of an incident which occurred on our second day there.
We visited Mahaballipuram, an area of magnificent stone carvings and an ancient temple. I remembered it from a previous visit, 18 years ago. What I remembered about that visit were the granite carvings, the snake charmers, and a fight between a snake and a mongoose. I also remember walking along the lovely beach being pursued by a young girl, a beggar. She was in rags and held a tiny equally ragged baby. As is their custom, she latched on to me and didn't leave me alone. It was at a time when I was in desperate need of quiet time, and I am ashamed to say that I quite lost it with her. I told her to get away and asked whether she had ever heard of the world's population explosion. Of course it went by her.
On my return visit, 18 years later our group of 46 stood outside a temple, waiting to go in. Of course we were accosted by every urchin and beggar in the area. Again, a young girl stood in front of me holding out strings of synthetic beads and pearls. She shoved them in my face and tried to open my fingers. I looked down at her and shook my head. She gazed back out of large brown eyes. She was a pretty girl who was very very dirty. She stared at me and said, "please Ma'am, very every hungry." Despite my stoney face she continued. I looked at her, obviously she was hungry. She wasn't in good shape, but what on earth could I do? If I agreed to buy even one of her strands of beads the other hundred beggars around her would insist we buy from all of them. I looked into her eyes and shook my head. Her whole sorry life and future unfolded in front of me. Just then a security guard who had been on the outskirts of this group came over, raised his hand and he hit her on her back, hard. It happened so quickly. I felt myself screaming 'no' as he hit her again and all the street kids scattered.
It is very difficult when one is confronted with this level of misery and despair. One of the men who leads our tour is an Indian man, a Hare Krishna disciple. For the past few years he supervises an organization that feed 1200,000 children a day in Mumbai. For most of these children this is their only meal. They are fed in government schools and their parents now send them to school so that they can eat, and of course, learn. On my last visit to India I decided to donate to them, because I know where the money is going, and that it is an extremely worthy cause, better than the 10 rupees I can dole out to a few people to make me feel better.
If you are interested, this is the link