Part of "Shit and Sugar all in One Breath"
Excerpt from 4/1/2001: INDIA
One night back in Delhi I returned from a gathering at the ashram of the hugging saint, Ama. It was about 11 pm. I ran into a man named Peter who I had met in Dharamsala. He liked to smoke, drink chai, and hang out with the locals. I sat on the sidewalk beside him needing water to take my Tibetan herbs. I ordered hot ginger from the man with the chai cart in the street. Even at this hour, there were people everywhere. It was like New York, a city that never sleeps although you might feel as though you went back in time.
While drinking my tea, a boy crawled over to me. He pulled himself with his arms and slid along on his buttocks. His thighs projected out perpendicular to his sides and his calves folded underneath them like mere bones with no meat. His feet twisted in the other direction opposite that of his calves. He wore a pair of army pants torn off at the knees. The pants were tied in knots at the bottom and shredded above from all of the wear. He wore an old blue soiled t-shirt. While approaching me, he asked, "Madam, Chai? Chai madam? Chai?" I said, "OK" and went to pay for my drink and his. He proceeded to ask me for money for new pants. I looked at him kindly with no response. As always I wanted to give, but I did not know what to say because everyone legitimately needed something.
Peter then turned my attention to an old woman begging by my side. She rubbed her saree together mumbling to me in Hindi. She was asking me for money to buy a new saree. I thought about the new clothes I throw out each year because I never wear them. These people begged for something to keep them covered. She was filthy and the saree was thin as paper. I looked at her and she returned a gaze with her dark brown sunken eyes. The whites were yellow and tired. She turned away maybe from guilt or shame about having to beg her whole life to survive.
I looked back at the boy who spoke English quite well which surprised me for a street person. He stopped begging for pants and started to converse with me. “Madam, which country?” I told him. “Madam, your name?” I asked him his name. I thought he said “Sadhu.” When I repeated it, he laughed and said, “No Madam, Radu!” He turned around and pointed to a man in an orange cloth with a bucket to collect alms and said, “Sadhu.” Then he pointed to himself and said, “Radu”. I laughed.
Of course I wanted to know his birthday. I asked him and he shook his head, “No”. I asked him again thinking he did not understand me. He shook his head again, “No”. I asked him how old he was and he said, “18”. I laughed not believing him, but then I realized I was fooled by his small stature due to not having legs. He had legs but unlike any legs you see in my country. He asked me how old I was and then a question I heard often, “Madam, you married?” I sat in silence not wanting to lie and not wanting to tell the truth. I looked at him as if I did not understand him. “Madam, you married?” I still did not respond as it might bring up a conversation I did not feel like having. “Madam, you speak English? I speak English. I speak Hindi. You crazy, Madam. You speak English?” I chuckled again. He had a bright perfect smile and a round head like the character on Mad Magazine but dark like an Indian. He had the same bowl haircut and glowing white eyes. Once again he said, “Madam, you married?” I did not answer. There was an Indian man sitting next to me who was my age. Peter had left. Radu proceeded to ask me to marry this man by my side.
I tried to find out his birthday once more. He nodded “no” once again. I surmised that he was born and abandoned never knowing his parents or the date of his birth. I wondered, Did he have abandonment issues, depression? He would if he lived in the US. Those issues were for the privileged. He was too busy trying to survive. I was amazed by this boys charm, humor, and kindness despite his lifestyle, but what did I really know about him anyways.
How easily people got around despite their physical limitations. They adjusted to what they were given. Another man with his calves chopped off walked normally on his stumps as if nothing were wrong. Talking with Radu was one of the first times I was able to have a conversation with someone from such a world. They usually did not speak any English nor I any Hindi for us to communicate.
Usually they conveyed guilt in the tourists as they tried to get a spare rupee. Why shouldn’t they. We had so much more.
Radu exuded immense joy at least on the surface. I wondered about happiness. Maybe money was not that important. Ideally we have our basic needs met like food, water, shelter, and good health. Despite what he lacked, he seemed to find enough elements of joy in life to create a smile. Where did this joy come from, I wondered. Maybe happiness came from inside, from being at peace, from accepting what one had and not expecting from others.