A View of the World

December 22, 2008
By Divya Mehra, Gurgaon, ZZ

Sometimes I flop onto my bed and switch on the television while sipping an Appy Fizz I bought at the kiosk in school. Sometimes I stay up until four in the morning, using all my energy, most of it acquired from the four cups of caffeine, to read a simple word, which seems blurry even under the tiny fluorescent lamp. Sometimes I lie in bed, staring at the glow in the dark stars, which stopped glowing long ago somewhere around my eighth birthday party. And sometimes I look out the window, to see the millions of people who struggle to find shelter under a half constructed metro, which I don’t think is ever going to be finished. And every now and then I still get a shock when I hear a knocking on my car window and see a seven-year-old child begging for money. But I should be used to it by now, right? After all, I’ve been living in the poverty-stricken country for around two years now.

Except for the fact that I haven’t been living in it. I’ve been living in an entirely different world, which just happens to be situated in the same place as their world. I live in a place where I go to an international school, costing approximately 17,350 US dollars annually, but claiming to be one of the best schools in the continent. I don’t roam around on the filth covered streets or take the public bus, overflowing with travelers, or stop for a local snack at the roadside food stall. No, I visit five-star hotels and restaurants and ride in taxis, but usually in my car with our family driver. I work in my room while our daily household help brings me food and washes our clothes and cleans the house. I may be residing in this country, but I am certainly not the average resident because I’m one of the people who watches all of it from her eighteenth story apartment window.

Not to say that I haven’t done whatever I can as a high school student. I tutor children from a village an hour away and spend time with around forty kids who come from the slums next to our school. I’ve built houses for the underprivileged and donated money to charity. But I still see it everyday. I still hear it everyday. A couple weeks ago, a member of the Teach India Community Service Club said that as he took one of the slum children around our school to improve his English vocabulary, the child asked, “Why can’t I go to this school?” And that question was reciprocated with looks of pity and sympathy. It wasn’t only that one day though. It was everyday that I rode in our family’s Honda Accord and I saw undernourished children stare at me from their sidewalk seats. Every time I ignored a beggar’s plea, I used to feel the guilt crawling under my skin like a raging infection.

The horrible part is that now I have gotten used to it. I no longer feel affected by the stares or the pleas. I simply ride on in my car and enter the school where I hold a secure future and a handful of opportunities at my disposal. Ask anyone I know and they’ll tell you: “That’s just the way it is,” shrugging their shoulders and sighing with sympathy for a moment, after which they shake their head and ramble on about the doctors appointment scheduled at such an inconvenient time.

The Population Reference Bureau claims that 53% of the world lives on less than two US dollars a day. Whenever I say this to someone, they paste on their sympathy look and ask what the world is coming to. The statistics don’t surprise us anymore. I suppose we’ll just have to wait until we hear that 99% of the world’s population is living on less than two US dollars per day. And maybe even then, if we’re in that 1%, we won’t listen. After reading this, I am guessing that most of you will react the same way: a moment of silence. It’s these reactions, not the statistics, that remind us how bad things have become.

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This article has 2 comments.

on Feb. 3 2009 at 3:58 pm
hi divya, great article! as an indian, i know what it feels to refuse a beggar's plea. you have described everything very well. i hope you keep writing.

Kathy123 said...
on Jan. 26 2009 at 9:57 am
What a great article! Well articulated, expressing feelings that inevitably come upon you when living in a world where extreme wealth and poverty live next to each other. Acknowledging this situation and finding ways to cope with it is a great personal choice.

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