By Gulrukh Tausif
A few days ago, I was buying grocery from a rather posh departmental store in Islamabad. I was near the cash counter waiting to pay for my shopping. A young boy, dressed in worn out clothes quietly went to the counter and put a crumpled 20 rupee note on it. “Ice cream” he just mumbled, clearly awed by his surroundings.
The cashier glared at him and then threw the guard at the door a dirty look before returning the boy his money and jerking his head towards the door, clearly indicating to the boy to leave. The boy got the message and hurriedly went out. I went to the cashier and told him that he should not have done that.
He misunderstood me and assured me that this “occurrence” is not common and the store does not allow children from the streets to just walk in. He tried to put the blame on the guard’s shoulders who had not dealt efficiently with the “situation.” I told him that the boy had money to pay so he should have been allowed to buy ice-cream from the store just like any other customer. When I stressed that he should not have been treated so shabbily, the cashier became defensive and said that other customers do not like it if street children walk in. They are afraid that they might pinch something or there might be incidents of shoplifting.
I was feeling rather agitated so I just paid for my shopping and added a few packs of biscuits and couple of juice boxes. When I came out of the store, I tried to find the boy but he was nowhere to be seen. A few other children swarmed around me and grabbed the biscuits and juice boxes and melted away as quickly as they had gathered.
I haven’t been able to get this incident out of my mind. I wonder what would have gone through the mind of the young boy. Had he been hurt and wounded by the treatment meted out to him or was he so used to such rejection that he took it as norm. But both possibilities are unbearable.
I feel that as a society we have failed these children. Though visible outside every shopping centre and markaz in Islamabad, they are also our missing citizens…a part of the population which exists on the periphery of our society without any name, identity or future.
In recent years, there has been a large increase in the population of street children in Islamabad. Some sell faded flowers, pens, stickers and balloons, other just stretch out their hands for money. Living in abject poverty, their days revolve around begging, petty thefts, being chased by police and predators and probably end by huddling in some katchi abadi. Often barefoot and with no protection against the harsh weather elements, they just roam from street to street eking out an existence.
It is true that some NGO’s and philanthropic organizations are trying to provide education, food and other facilities but the problem is too huge. But while our successive governments set their priorities right, maybe we the common people of Pakistan, can show some compassion and kindness to these poor souls.
It is not too difficult to buy some hot food and hand it over to them. Or keep some clothes in the car whenever we go shopping and hand them to those who might seem to need them. Or inquire about their circumstances and deliver a carton of basic groceries at their doorstep every month. There are millions of small ways to be kind and compassionate. We can volunteer with our time, talent, wealth and our social connections. The least we can do is not to treat them with contempt or arrogance.
Many people protest and say that this will spoil them and make them even more dependent on charity. They are good for nothing and professional beggars. I would like to ask these people, isn’t this an age where children should be spoiled with a little bit of love, compassion and kindness. No one can live such an existence by choice. Just look into their eyes for a moment and see the desperation, the hopelessness and the horrors of the daily existence.
There is nothing more rewarding than helping to put a smile on someone’s face. The late Lady Diana once said, “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.”
We should never think that our little deeds of kindness, done with sincere intentions, do not make a difference. They make a difference to those towards whom we show kindness and more than that, our kind and compassionate deeds enrich our lives as well. So, show mercy to those less fortunate and life will treat you with some kindness too.