Vignettes from India: Human Obstacle

12321285_1529549830698654_174348415980886132_nThe day I last left India I was walking along a crowded market street in an unsavory section of Mumbai headed for a specific shop. I had to push through mobs of vendors, hawkers, shoppers, tourists, drug peddlers, and pimps while trying to ignore constant solicitations and to carefully guard my wallet and watch. My mind was already steeled to say “No” when down at my feet I had to step around an astonishing human obstacle. It was the living remains of a man: just a head, torso and hips, not even any stubs of arms or legs. Somehow, totally alone, he was worming his way along the sidewalk while pushing a board on wheels with his nose. On the board was a begging bowl. And then he was gone, swallowed up by the crowd as I was pushed along into others. The whole episode lasted seconds and by the time it fully registered in my shocked brain, I was long past.

I walked to my destination, which was closed, and turned back through the crowd, now looking for this man. By the time I reached him it had been perhaps ten or fifteen minutes. By then he had somehow maneuvered himself to a vacant post and had squirmed upright to face his bowl and the stream of passersby. This time I was somewhat prepared and squatted beside him to place a large bill in his bowl. We spoke a few words of greeting. He was pleasant, direct, and proud. His eyes held such integrity and a challenge not to pity him. And I moved on.

The experience left me with many questions. Who was he? Was he born that way? Was it an accident? How does he live? Does anyone help him or is he truly alone? Answers I will never know. It caused me yet again to really question my identity, my life, my choices and my complaints. It haunts me still — and this was only the last such experience in India, although it was one of the most potent. I have no answers. I just try to move ahead. But India always challenges me, often when I least expect it, keeping me aware of the dangers of my complacence.