on the streets

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This is from my diary, the entries are just as I later remembered how things happened… and I don’t think even I can stand by now for everything I thought/said/did then 🙂

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2-July-2003

Bristol, UK

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I went to a public toilet near the city center the other day. It was in the basement, and as I entered it, I was hit by the unbearable stench of an uncleaned loo. It was very strong, and for a few moments I felt some difficulty in breathing. I thought let me finish and get out as soon as possible.

Imagine my shock when I saw a guy lying down and sleeping there. I could not imagine why he chose this this place of all places!! At first glance, one might think he has fainted. But just when I entered, he had looked up and glanced at me. There was nobody else in the bathroom except for one person using one of the closed toilets [I could see the shoes]. I quickly finished my business… feeling acutely uncomfortable if he was some criminal or some low down guy… he might suddenly come behind me and slit my throat and flee with my wallet.

I hurried outside without looking back. As soon as I reached the fresh air outside… I found myself feeling sorry for him. I wondered what kind of situation would have made him get into such a circumstance that he had to find accomodation in a bathroom like that. Even the poorest people in India are better off. How many diseases he will be getting breathing in such air!

I half wondered whether I should go and just give him some money and say “I am taking a gamble with my money… that you will use this to get yourself out of this situation that you are in”. But a moment later I dismissed this thought, if he were to have the insight to use the money, he would not have got himself into such a situation in the first place??

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[no date… somewhere around Apr-2000]
Dusseldorf
Germany
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I had been to Berlin Saturday and Sunday, and returned to Duesseldorf Haupt Bahn Hof (main railway station) on Monday morning at 1 AM. Went out of the railway station to catch a tram to go home. Bad news. There were no trams during the night, last one was at around 11:30 PM, and the first one in the day was around 4:30 AM. After some looking around, I found that the only alternative was to take a taxi home, though I had no idea how expensive it would be. It was summer, and the night was cool and comfortable with just a light breeze. I had only around 3 hours I thought I might as well sleep on a bench in the station. But when I tried to go back into the station, I was very surprised to see the security wouldn’t let me in. I tried to convince him that there was no way I could go back to my hotel and I just wanted to stay till the trams started, but I couldn’t convince him, particularly unhelpful was the fact that I was trying to do the convincing in English!

So mostly out of miserliness to take a taxi, and partly out of a sheer curiosity, I decided to spend the next few hours outside the station. There was a big open space in front of the station criscrossed with tram tracks and dotted with tram stops. And these stops had benches one might barely manage to sleep on. The place was mostly desolate except for some sparsely distributed people, some squatting on the floor apparently on a high smoking
something, and some lying on a bench. The lighting was a mixture of some well illuminated areas closer to the station, getting dimmer and dimmer dissolving into murky shadowy areas away from it. I picked an unoccupied bench somewhere in the middle, put my backpack as a pillow and my jacket as a sheet and tried to get some sleep.

Turned out to be impossible. Occasionally the eerie silence was broken by the sound of somebody laughing, or some drunkard swearing and smashing a bottle on the floor. And some bizaare sounds that had no explanation. Hmmm… this is how it was to be a tramp in Germany. Sometimes there would be some kind of streetfight in the distance, and I got tempted to get up and leave… but just a few hours more….

One chap unsteadily walked up to me as I watched warily through almost closed eyes, pretending to be asleep, hoping that he would just pass by. Then he made me jump out of my skin by extending his hand and asking something totally incomprehensible in German. I gave him the safest reply (by statistical evidence): “Nein, bitte” (no, please/sorry) and after he made a few more queries, that universal answer finally satisfied him and he staggered off.

Just a couple of hours more…

Finally after another angry scream from somewhere in the distance, I decided I had enough and took the taxi, which was probably a good idea as I could catch some sleep in my cosy 3 star hotel.

Later if I happen to stay over in somebodys place and the host asks me “I hope this is comfortable enough for you?” …I can only laugh… “comfortable? its luxury!”

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Con-woman on Cunningham Road
April 2002
Bangalore
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I’ve seen her a few times. The first time she approached me I was a bit impressed by her story & acting: she was with a torn medical bill saying that her husband is bed-ridden and she does not have money for medicines.

Then said I’d buy her the medicines, and conveniently she said there was no medical store on Cunningham Road – I said there’s Wockhard Hospital (for one) and she replied that they didnt have stock 🙂 My theory at that time (around 1.5 years ago) was that she’s probably conning me, but let me take a gamble anyway in the remote chance that her story might be true.

Later on I saw her doing her act in front of someone else and I knew for certain I had got conned. I went and confronted her “oh the poor chap is still in hospital is it?” And she had the guts to face me cooly saying now it was for someone else!! And the thing is she speaks very well in different languages – depending upon her potential victim, she speaks Kannada, Tamil, Telegu, etc (who knows what else), as fluently as a native speaker, and also speaks pretty good English. And to add to that, shes a really good actress (probably because she’s rehearsed the same scene enough number of times!)

While its entertaining from one perspective, from another, its unfortunate that people like her make life very difficult for those who are genuinely in trouble. They create a very cynical attitude in the mindset of us city dwellers. It ends up with an attitude of mistrust, where we percieve any person who approaches as likely to “want something from us”.

I wonder if its really possible to evaluate each person independently rather than think theyre all conmen.

Hopefully one day we will live in a civilisation where any stranger is trusted by default, unless he/she proves to be unworthy of it.

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“Hope, it is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness. ” – Matrix
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