April 19, 2020
I was hesitantly looking at him. Our eyes met for a fleeting moment and he hurriedly turned to the other side. It was not easy for him. I could not muster the courage to open the door and go out. I felt frozen on my car seat.
It was not the first time that I was seeing him. Only a month back, I had bought tender coconuts from him, he was happily selling his stock to his dedicated customers. Today was different, a person, who used to earn his living with pride, was forced to sit on pedestrian path and eat from a packet, given to him by someone. And there I was, stealing his privacy, and making him feel small and awkward of his own desperate condition.
I gathered all my strength and opened the car door, after all, grocery had to be bought. So I stood in the queue and waited for my turn, to enter the store. My mind was still focused on the frail, old man, eating idli with chutney from that foil packet. I wanted to help him, I thought for a while if I could cook for him and bring him food everyday, it wasn’t far from home. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to commit, will I be able to do it everyday? Queue moved on and so did my thoughts. Once I entered the store, I put everything on my list in my cart. Once, mandatory items were safely placed in the cart, I moved on to scan the shelves in case I found something interesting. I had sometime to hone my culinary skills during the lock-down period, so I picked some baking items, butter, biscuits etc. Suddenly I saw a packet of Burger Buns and remembered that my little champ had recently wanted to eat burger. Happy to have found something to surprise my little one, I picked up a packet and moved towards the billing counter.
How surprising human nature is, we tend to forget the moments of sadness and awkwardness so soon, if it does not affect our life directly. Only a few minutes back, I was so worried about the old coconut vendor and at this moment, I had totally forgotten about him and made plans of making burger.
Holding filled bags of food items in both my hands, I moved towards my car, to find the old man, sitting exactly where I had left him. Just that, he was now holding his hands like a beggar asking for something to eat. That sight broke me.
He wasn’t a beggar. He was a hard working man, who earnestly did his job, everyday, in sun and in rain. Now forced to beg for food, for each meal of his day. I couldn’t handle the situation well and frantically searched in my shopping bag. Taking out the burger buns packet and butter, I handed them over to the old man. His eyes shone, he had managed to arrange for his dinner, for one more day.
I drove off.
Its been a week of this encounter of mine. I knew I would write about it, but I did not want to put it on paper as a story with lose ends. So I kept thinking, about the coconut vendor and “daily wagers” like him. How has this lock-down affected them?
And while explaining about the situation to my son, I realized what message I wanted to give with this blog.
So I was telling my son, who “daily wagers” are? I started with a funny story about how my dad used to call himself a daily wager. Yes, he is. He is a doctor who has to be in his clinic, day in and day out to earn his living every day. He has no fixed salary or corporate benefits. However, his skill and education taught him to save for unforeseen circumstances. So we can say that he is a well prepared, future secured daily wager. Then I moved on to tell my son about the old coconut vendor and how due to his meager income and lack of savings, he was forced to beg for food.
During this insight session to my son, I figured, three aspects of a “daily wager’s” life are most impacted due to this pandemic situation:
- No work, No earning – whether a daily wager is earning by selling, or by working for others, his/her source of income stopped COMPLETELY. Household helps are willing to risk their lives and come to work, to ensure they get their monthly salary. Because no income means sleeping with a empty stomach.
- Shattered self esteem – being able to earn and feed for oneself is the biggest satisfaction for a human being. Government and people have ensured to feed the needy, but what about their pride? Its shattered. They probably haven’t gone form riches to rags but Corona has managed to kill their self esteem!
- Dangling future – even if the lock-down ends soon, future of daily wagers will remain at risk. Why? Their income depends on the businesses like construction in real estate, spending power of people like us and resuming of other businesses. Even though Corona dies down, it will leave an impact on how businesses are run and directly impact the future of daily wagers. Will they still get the same jobs back or make the same amount of money? This is yet to be seen.
So how can we help?Kudos to those who are already providing meals to people like the old coconut vendor. But is that going to be enough?
My maid called me two days back, requesting me to allow her to come back to work. I was shocked and strictly told her to not come come until the lock-down period. Then she said, “Didi, kaam nahi karenge to khayenge kya?” (what will we eat if we do not work?) I told that she does not have to worry about that as I am going to pay her for the entire lock-down period. She was relieved for sure but question remains, will every household where she works, pay her? I think, the least we can do is to ensure that salary of household helps are paid. So apart from food, let us also give them the security of their income.
Being educated class, working in air-conditioned, calling luxuries of life as necessities, we will have a much bigger responsibility after this pandemic ends. And its not giving work, money or food to 90% population of our country as a CSR activity, but to save for them. Yes, we are ones, who have to save for a secure future of daily wagers. Importance of saving, how much ever, small it is, need to be taught and enforced to them. Such a humongous task cannot be accomplished by the governing authorities unless people like us support and volunteer. These could be simple ways, like depositing some money of your household help’s salary in a separate account, helping them open/maintain their bank accounts, giving them advice on how they could do more with their skills and finding opportunities for them, etc. In short, we need to give daily wagers a piggy bank and ensure that they fill it.
I remember, my mom, used to keep a part of her maid’s salary every month, saying that she will give it only at year end. This simple act of saving for her maid, contributed to a corpus amount for her maid’s daughter’s marriage. The other day, I met a lady at post-office, who had forced her driver to open a post-office saving’s account. When we got talking, she said, “Its our responsibility to educate lesser privileged section of our society. It might need some effort from our side, but its a great service for our nation.”
I am re-collecting all such incidents, that I have come across and I am 100% convinced that if we collectively pledge and work to make lives better, ours and others, then lives will become better. All it needs, is a little empathy, generosity, right use of our education and sense of responsibility!
A responsible, self aware and “I got your back” population is what a nation & civilization needs to stand strong in case of testing times like these future!