The great leveller

It’s a 180 second wait at the signal and the OA switches off the engine and we wait, chatting. The windows are rolled down and we are shaking our booties in the car to some Punjabi hit. A pleasant breeze is blowing, the moon in the sky looks like a shiny new dish all set to run off with the spoon.

The next moment we are besieged by beggars. An old woman with her glasses tied up with string, a young kid selling flags, a man with a missing arm. Ever since AC cars became de rigueur their pickings are poor.  It’s easy to ignore the snotty face and grimy hands plastered against your window if you turn the music up. Not so much when your windows are down and they reach in and pull your dupatta and try to grab the packet of chips in your lap.

Anyhow, we’re waiting and shaking our heads firmly when I see another one approaching us. And this time I am torn by the familiar dilemma. Should I keep my purse firmly locked and discourage begging or should I give her something to keep her going. She’s a young girl in a filthy ghaghra and a tight shirt, the buttons below her breasts opened up to accommodate a very pregnant belly. Skinny and malnourished she’s clearly close to her due date. And unlike the missing arms and burnt body parts, this cannot be faked.

A split second before the light goes green I dig into my purse and grab some money to give her. We drive away and I ask the OA why such a poor young girl who can’t feed herself is bringing yet another mouth into the world to feed. He shrugs. The answer of  course is clear. Procreation is such an animal instinct.

It’s such a luxury to have a choice. To be able to choose when to have a child. To say you will only do it after you make CFO or after you’ve bought a house and created a retirement fund. After you’ve had your folic acid and worked out to get to your optimum weight. After you’ve been bungee jumping and done that trip to Peru. After you’ve bought your parents a second sedan and a flat screen TV.

I wonder what it’s like to have no idea where your next meal will come from. To live under a plastic sheet on the roadside. To have two torn shirts and no certain bathroom or source of water. To stand at car windows and knock, hoping for some mercy. And yet have the strength to go ahead with a pregnancy.

I know the government and NGOs have birth control drives and help them with sterilisation too but they still pick choose to have that child. They didn’t get an epidural or a private delivery room. They have no idea if they’ll be able to nurse the child, so malnourished are they. They’re not reading Spock and worrying about timely potty training. They will not be able to educate them, they have no means of keeping them warm and safe on cold winter nights, but they’re sure they want them.

But they’re doing it anyway. For the joy of holding a child in their arms – just the same as every single one of us.

The many thoughts that rushed through my head – It’s funny how we have the cheek to believe we should have an opinion on their reproductive rights just because we’re richer/educated.

On the other hand, who will take responsibility for all these poor starving kids on the roadside.

Do they have a right to bring another child into a world full of suffering, hunger and poverty?

And this is why we have no right to smugly tell those who pick IVF, that its no big deal to give birth. Just adopt. For one, adoption is not the last refuge of those who tried and failed. It’s a happy choice. For another, it’s their choice and it’s a little rich when those words come out of the mouth of someone who got knocked up before they could say Jack Robinson.

Why would a person say Jack Robinson?

 

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120 thoughts on “The great leveller

  1. That was an Awesome insight !! Seldom people think positively that people by the road also are fellow Human Beings with similar desires like us , the so called “privileged”. Really enjoyed reading this particular piece of writing because, somehow i believe, every Reader who will read it will, at least any more in future, introspect self and think, ‘yeah, she/he also do have their hearts’ in the right place!’.

  2. so lovely…am eternaly grateful for my longed for child MM. We tried and tried and tried and tried. It is never easy and so I think I have a very good idea why that beggar woman would want to keep the baby. Circumstances notwithstanding.

  3. I have had the same dilemma. Sometimes it makes me feel that the pregnancy is another attention seeker and a mercy getting thing. While it can’t be faked, any woman, be it an illiterate or an ignorant otherwise would have the sense & strength to stop it if she can’t afford it in anyway. You can’t wake those people up who pretend to be asleep. I am sorry for being blunt about this, but this ‘begging’ industry is a serious big thing in India. I feel they can go to any limit to get what they want.

    • i agree. I am sure she knows she is getting more money only because of her belly. And yet its such a vicious cycle. They know no better, they have few options. They live with their own underworld and oppression. And all you can worry about is that poor child with no choice in the matter.

  4. Lovely writing. It may come down to numbers. I agree with you that everyone deserves the right to hold a baby. But when you are way below the poverty level, it may be fair to limit the number of children to 2. My aunt who works in a government maternity hospital says they offer lots of incentives to those women who opt for sterilization after having 2 female babies. The maid who works in my parents’ house ended up having 3 children — she didn’t really intend to, what happened was that she had a traumatic delivery with the 2nd one and they asked her to come back at a later time for sterilization but she never got her period due to breastfeeding and then just ended up pregnant with the third. She is so proud of her three boys — two of them go to private schools paid for by the families she works for and the youngest is still a toddler. She has all these hopes and dreams for her children — that they will be well-educated and help her rise out of poverty. It did bring tears to my eyes when I thought how privileged my children were.
    -NW

  5. You know the first thing that came to my mind when I read this? There is a lot of sexual abuse/rape on the streets and I wondered whether the young girl had been a victim. There are so many rapes in Delhi and I am sure most of them don’t show up in the news. They only do when middle-upper class women are attacked not when poor homeless beggars are targeted. So that’s what came to mind. What a sad scene that must have been from your car.

    Also, don’t you think we sometimes relate our own life experiences to those of others? I am not sure that people looking to survive, to just make it to their next meal, even think in terms of choices or getting ready for a baby or what that entails. Do they even have the luxury of thinking about the future..about how it will be when they give birth or how they will bring up the child? Do they have the luxury to pay attention to the changes in their bodies, to talk to their babies, to make plans? I don’t know. This post of yours just made me wonder.

    • I know… even I wonder – but here we’re being really negative. is every pregnancy on the roads a rape? And yes, I know we tend to look at things through our own perspective, but think about it – what does a poor person have to look forward to, other than kids?

      Its the middle class that worries because we dont have enough for our aspirations. For the poor its just another hungry snotty kid on the roads. They’re not really worried about school fees. Among them, the couple that can’t conceive is ostracised…

      • Well, one doesn’t have to assume rape, but I think one can safely assume the husband is a no-gooder, or that he too is on the street somewhere, begging like the wife. Poor women hardly have a choice in bearing children.

      • What I meant was do they even really think of the kid as anything (good or bad) until the baby is actually there? Sometimes I think thinking about things and about the future is a luxury…and when daily survival is an issue can they afford that luxury? Perhaps I am totally wrong but I *think* basic survival trumps all.

        I didn’t mean she was definitely raped but her situation made me wonder about sexual violence on the streets because it’s easy for perpetrators to never face the prospect of even the admittedly lax Indian criminal justice system. These people are practically invisible for the rest of us and therefore ripe for exploitation and violence.

        As far as limiting someone’s reproductive freedom, that gives me an icky feeling (yes, that is the technical term :-). Whatever someone is or how they live they are individuals *and* citizens of a free country and their rights are as important as those for the rest of us. I’ve seen many people (not on the streets) who should never have had kids for the amount of damage they inflict on them. If we start with limiting a poor woman’s rights to have kids who do we go after next? That’s a slippery slope. So….no…I am totally against infringing on whatever few rights the homeless have. Unless there is some kind of law like in China where everyone rich or poor has to follow it but that has its own weird issues.

        It’s sad that children are born into such situations and have no hope of escape, however, unless the mother gives up the child for adoption instead of using the baby as a prop for making more money.

        Some problems just have no satisfying solutions do they? They just are.

        Oh, the whole thing is just totally depressing!

  6. I’ll admit I’ve been one of those who wondered why people didn’t just adopt and subjected themselves to IVF over and over. More so because I think people are losing time and this would give them a chance at having a baby soon. But I completely understand the biological need. When I think about the second one I don’t think of a fully-formed entity in a crib at home. I think about being pregnant, having life kicking within me, labor and birth…all of which is real and cannot be replaced. It doesn’t make adoptive parenting any less fulfilling. Now that I’ve experienced the route to motherhood, I can understand why for some any other way is unacceptable. And I didn’t say Jack Robinson. I just said let’s make a baby, and we did 🙂

    • So have I. It’s only recently that I am able to look at it with more compassion. At 22 I just brusquely wondered why they didn’t put themselves and an orphan out of misery. Of course I look at adoption differently too now. And you didn’t say Jack Robinson? Why? I thought that was the only way to get pregnant. Well that and the stork of course 🙂

    • True. Last year we had an unsuccessful IVF. Looking back it was a horrible experience, both physically as well as emotionally. But I was ready to brave anything if that could make me pregnant. Joy of seeing that second pink line, sharing the news with family and friends, seeing your body change, getting pampered by your husband, complaining about swollen feet and mood swings, feeling your baby kick inside…well, these things are not replaceable, right?

        • Its been a li’l over a year since we discovered that having children is not going to be all that easy for us.. I have gone thru 2 ivfs and yes, its very very stressful…physically, emotinally and financially. Yet i know i could go thru another one for the joy of going through pregnancy and the experience of delivering a baby..of course not to to forget to finally have our bundle of joy in our arms.

  7. A thought provoking post.
    I am surprised at my first thoughts after reading the first few lines – I didn’t think it was a choice at all – I thought it was a forced pregnancy. May be because you mentioned the girl was young, or may be ‘coz I assumed she didn’t know how to prevent it, or could it be that she didn’t really want it and is pregnant because of someone forcing sex on her – I admit that I wasn’t really thinking and your next lines took me by surprised that she could’ve chosen to have the baby.

    All that I see in the society or in media is poor women being forced to endure sex as well as babies with no real choices at hand. If she could choose, would she not want to not have the baby and save her from the pain she endures everyday? I don’t doubt the desire to procreate is basic and every women may want to be a mother, but I am not so sure, if any woman who knows the pain of living a very tough live would want her child to have it too, if she had a choice.

  8. The area I lived in before had many such people. Most of the young girls would be pregnant and seen begging. Many times the police would arrest them but somehow they’d come back. This group has a ring leader. He’s the man of the household having 2 wives and innumerable children. All the girl children have been forced into prostitution, I heard. There is also an auto stand close by and many people have seen them negotiating.

    The beach is another area prostitution is rampant. The other day I was sitting by the parapet wall and observing a big group of beggars settling in the sand for the night. 3 women were pregnant and looked just the way you described. There was a man in the group to whom everybody went to, to know where they’d sleep that night. He looked strong and muscular. Many times he’d yell at the women to make the kids stop crying. I’m sure he threatens the women if they’d say no to prostitution. I was told that he was the one who gave the women their ‘monthly due’.

    I think these women are numb to their reality. They do it to eat atleast one meal a day. Some of these women are so beautiful. I don’t think they even know who their father is. I think they are so used to seeing this happen everywhere in their ‘community’ that they might laugh at our concern.

  9. And MM I am going to be the Devil’s Advocate on this page and raise the question why would we think that her pregnancy was a choice, and err not the consequence of something less pleasant.

    • You’re not the only one. But I’ve answered it. How can we similarly assume that they wouldn’t want the same joy that we want? They can’t have the good food, the clothes, the make up, the holidays…

      This is the one matter in which they can have just what we want and they do. And they seem to have far less problems reproducing than our class does…

      • See – i understand what you’re saying about her wanting to experience the joys of motherhood. But i doubt that getting pregnant is a choice for most of these women. It could be the gang-leader, it could be the ‘husband’, it could be a customer…more often than not sex is a power tool and the women have little say. This sort of thing (about women having little voice or choice over their bodies) happens even among the middle class and is likely to be rampant among the poor. That is what makes this pregnant girl such a sad sight. I do hope she/they have dreams for their children…

        • Let me put it this way – do you think she’d be happier if you told her she didn’t need to have a child? This isn’t about one kid, two kids or affordability. This is about an experience that the body is made for and many many women do feel the yearning – regardless of economics. Deny them that chance -tie their tubes, pronounce them infertile, widow them – and then ask if they’re happy to be childless.

          Yes, there is all that you mentioned, a ‘husband’, a molestation, everything. But their aspirations are also different. Can you imagine how out of it they’d feel if they were the only women down the road with no kids? That is their social conditioning too, apart from all biological urges.

  10. You know some of the thoughts that you put in this post and the ones that i have thought of too. Of course my train of thoughts went on a different route. My thoughts were that these people probably have no access to contraception and even if the woman above did not want to bring a new life into the world, where and how would she exercise that right of hers?

    • True. But you have to stop and ask. How many of them do you think would not want a child? It is the only joy that they know. They are socially conditioned to want them. They can conceive without any cost. They deliver cheaply on the road or free in govt hospitals. They know no better life.

  11. No agree. I don’t think it’s possible to get knocked up before you say Jack Robinson. Might be possible if you say it in a loooooong, sloooooow, drawl – like “Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…..ck”, but in my opinion, it’s still a long shot I think.

  12. MM, in the case of the very poor who live on the streets, its often less of a conscious choice to ‘keep the baby’; more often its because they don’t have access to/awareness of birth control methods, or because they don’t have access to/awareness of abortion. In many cases, once the baby is born, it is abandoned. In some cases, the baby is looked upon as another source of income. I work in an NGO in the public health space, and I’ve seen this.

    Of course there are exceptions. Of course there are many many many poor people who choose to have children. I am not denying that the poor want to have children for the same reason as those who are better off. But the truth is that for many of them, given their circumstances, its less of a choice than we’d like to think.

    • I’ll disagree and take the opposite side. I think that there are many many who want kids and very few who abandon. They want kids for very different reasons than us. For them its socially unacceptable to not have kids. Infertile women are ostracised. Infertile men pretend its not their fault (actually that happens at our class too). It is another set of hands to put to work. It is one of the few things they have within their hands and they are happy to use it.

  13. I personally don’t like or want kids and I have no understanding of the emotions moms or moms-to-be go through, so I really have no right to comment here. But I’ll still go ahead and say that I think it is very wrong to bring a child into this world if you cannot provide for it. Not just financial, but emotional needs too. Of course, I say this assuming that the poor girl HAD a choice in the matter.

    • You don’t want, I understand. You don’t like? I mean is that the same as dislike? If not, fine. If yes, why?!
      Nonetheless, everyone has a right to comment.
      I will agree with you that it is wrong to bring a child into this world if you cannot provide – but who are we to stand on judgment? I know kids who are born, go to daycare at 3 months and then boarding school. now I might think its wrong to have kids if that is what you are going to do with them.

      That said, the poor have so little. Is it right to take away that last joy they seek?

      • Lol no no, it’s not the same as dislike. I like other people’s kids 😀 What I meant is I’m not a patient or nurturing person. As for people who send kids off to boarding school, what you’re saying is exactly what I meant by taking care of a kid’s emotional needs. If you cant provide the financial and/or emotional needs a kid has, dont have one. It’s not a rich-poor thing. It’s about being able to do what it takes. It is unfair to everyone to venture into something so huge when you know you cant do what it takes.

        • True. In theory that is something I agree with. In practice it means the poor would never have kids. Which means taking away the last joy they have.
          Ps: I doubt anyone who knows me in real life would make the mistake of calling me patient or nurturing. Theoretically I am the worst candidate for motherhood. I just seem to have a blast anyway.

          • Your last two lines give me hope. Much as I love kids, I am the most impatient person I know – some of my friends fear for my future kids already! :p But having read you this long, I know I will mostly get by fine, too. Or so I like to lure myself into believing 🙂

            • Kids don’t need identical drone like patient machines. Patience is nice – hell, not just for kids, even the OA would like it if I were more patient. That is something I work towards. More so that I become a better person. But that is no criterion for a kid.
              I’d rather be impatient than a boring disinterested mother. Or patient and busy with something else. Or patient and strictly routine driven. Kids are born to individuals and need to accept that. They know their father is a dancer, a boxer, a man with ugly toes and a sense of humour their mother hates. They know their mother is impatient, impulsive, quick to react and easy to persuade. They deal with it – and it teaches them to deal with diff people everywhere.

          • OK – i’m gonna poke my nose into this conversation. MM – you may not be patient but you sell yourself short if you say you’re not nurturing. You’re nothing BUT!

            This reminded me of a program i once saw where they were talking to the director of a movie on babies. He followed 4 babies lives from 4 continents- namibia, tokyo, mongolia and san-francisco for a year. What he said was interesting – while the kid in the US had all sorts of comforts and the one in namibia played with stones and bones, the one in mongolia shared its yurt (?) with cattle and livestock – they all had one thing in common – being wanted and a lot of love. So for your children to be happy and – all you need is love (to repeat the Beatles :D). I’m more impatient than most other ppl – screaming and shouting at the kids. BAD parenting according to the books – but i also love them loads, play with them, be the fool for them….so it all balances out – i hope :D.

            I leave you with a link to the trailer – it’s so CUTE! I want to see the movie.
            http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi867173401/

  14. On one of the traffic signals close to our home, this heavily pregnant woman would be begging. Then she went missing for a couple of days and was back with a baby slinging on her belly. A newborn! While we keep our newborns in socks and topi and smugly wrapped in an AC room, hers was already inhaling gas from vehicale exhausts. I wondered how long s/he will be able to live at all? H and I end up wondering and discussing about the same things that you have blogged about.
    I also feel that these folks beg out of choice (or because of mafia involvment), because there is enough jobs available now in cities. You should just be willing to work hard (not that begging is easy anyways!)

    • That too. There is a huge mafia involved. And they need to look pathetic. I think I blogged about the time the OA and I drove around the streets of Delhi with a backseat full of woollens and stopped and distributed them at traffic signals. So that we could be sure that they were really going to poor kids. next thing we know this kid pulls it off after we pass by and goes back, shivering, to beg.

  15. I really hope she is having this child by her choice. However, the pessimist in me feels that probably she was just raped by someone while she was trying to sleep on the roadside. Probably she does not have the choice or means to abort that child. So she will have to bring forth another being into her sad world !!
    I wish I am wrong in her case.

    • Yes, that seems to be the most common reaction. I just wish we didn’t live in such a bad world. Where the first reaction we all have to something as beautiful as the miracle of life, is that it is the result of something terrible 😦

      • This is the same thought that came to my mind. Mom used to work in a branch in the central business district for a few years so she would have to board her bus from a bustling and filthy bus depot on her way back. And everyday she would see a mentally challenged young girl walking around and begging there. One day she was spotted with a pregnant belly – what do you think happened? 😦

  16. What a beautiful piece. I see them every morning at a signal a boy and a girl aged may be 8-10 yrs old, may be brother and sister, they perform tricks to get some money. Everytime i see them i think of my own kids and i feel a knot in my stomach.As for adoption it’s a difficult decison to make. I have been thinking about it for 3 yrs now..to adopt a girl i know i badly want a girl but dont know after 2 if i can handle a third one.

    couple of months ago i went to a B’day party where one of them had 2 kids a boy and a girl. The boy was who she gave birth to and the girl she adopted there were enough eyebrows raised but i personally have a lot of regard for those to can have kids but choose to adopt, one less kid on the roads begging, one more kid having a nice home, good education etc.
    This is no judgement on adotion, just my personal opinion.

  17. Funny how every single one of you thought rape/forced pregnancy/no choice. I thought of it for a while and then I dropped the idea. Everytime I speak to a poor person – be it the gardener or the driver or the sweeper, their faces light up with joy. They don’t think of kids as a burden or a responsibility. They think of them as a blessing. What else do they have in life? Their lives would not be significantly better without children. They’d not be able to take trips to hillstations if they ditch kids. They’d still be poor people – except in their case, they’d not even have the joy of a child. At least that is what I’ve been given to understand….

    • I agree with you, we see the poor as so dehumanised that we can not recognise their right to selfhood and self expression. A child, by choice, or under forced circumstances, has the potential to allow the mother those two powerful feelings -selfhood and self expression.

      It is respectful to recognise the girl at the window as a mother to be, rather than only as victim/a sufferer. She probably is a victim, a sufferer, but she is also brimming with the power of giving life.

      I might sound like i am romantisizing the issue.

        • ok i am watching TV and Abhishek Bachchan has told me the REAL reason why they are having kids..it is nothing as romantic as the dream of selfhood and selfexpression. It is because they dont have access to 3G.
          Give them mobile connections Sheila D.
          —Aneela Marie Antionette

          • hee hee hee hee, you nailed this one aneela.

            “meekly wipes the sop off the comment and tries to get tongue firmly back in cheek”

          • There you go. From her highness herself. You all know the reason why now. 😀

            I don’t know you aneela – but i always find your comments hilarious 😀 You’re FUNNY.

            • She’s an absolute riot. If you don’t know her, go read her blog golkamra.blogspot.com. She’ll have you splits. And then we can both harass her to write that book she is refusing to write.

    • People like drivers & gardeners are much better off than the ones on the street. Their poverty isn’t worse enough to use their kids as a channel to extra income.(Those who send their kids to factories etc, that’s a whole different story). I think the reason why most of us thought the kids were a result of something bad is the way the mother holds her child or the way she looks at it. I mean its plain not mother-like. I have seen these girls (many mothers I saw were not even old enough to bear a child) treat the baby in the sling, like some commodity. It’s hard to imagine that she wanted to bear that child and derive happiness out of it.

      • That is our imagination, CMCK. They earn a lot on the streets but hide it away because it won’t do to look rich, will it? Did you ever read about these guys? http://living.oneindia.in/cosmopolitan/cosmo-life/2010/rich-beggars-india-mumbai-211010.html
        Which is not to say all of them are rolling in the green stuff, but to say that many of them choose to stay on and beg. Its an easier life than working in a tea stall or a construction site.
        Frankly speaking, if you’ve read my blog long enough you’ll know that I have the same issue with mothers who walk around malls with a maid carrying the kid behind them. They don’t look at their child with a hint of love in their eyes either. So many mothers I talk to will only talk about ‘getting the kids out of their hair’. And all I can think is – hell, you are not poor or uneducated. You could have made the choice not to have one at all.

        • What I meant to say was the way our servant maid or cook or sweeper would look at her child would be different. She may not be the best mother but she would strive to provide the basic amenities to the child. These ‘rich’ beggars could be there, but I don’t think any of these women we are talking about are up in that hierarchy to really have a say!

          • We don’t know that CMCK. I won’t debate that because I think its all a matter of attitude. The average beggar earns what a sweeper earns and continues to look filthy and hungry because that is the game plan. Its one of the requirements for the job position!

        • I’m digressing here but this sentence bothered me -“the I have the same issue with mothers who walk around malls with a maid carrying the kid behind them. They don’t look at their child with a hint of love in their eyes either.” Suppose I go to the Mothercare sale and take my helper along (because I can’t just leave her alone at home) or because it does make me feel somewhat secure to have another adult around whenever I take my baby out. She carries the babe while I hurriedly pick up a few things. Where does it imply I don’t love my baby? I suppose many young moms are frustrated enough to want an outing. And if one feels like going to the malls and decides to take the maid along to help with the baby’s strolley, diaper bag and other paraphernalia, what’s wrong with that?

          • I don’t know what it implies to you. But I will admit that I always find it strange that people who can afford to shop in a mall, and own a stroller and all the paraphernalia required still need a maid to straggle along behind them. I mean all this paraphernalia came about in the West where there were no maids, to help a young parent manage the kid. How is it that only in our country do we need the self-help paraphernalia along with another human being too? Surely if we’ve given birth we’re good to take care of the child for a few hours without a maid helping?

            A maid is good if you’re at work and need a caretaker. I’ve got two young kids and if I can manage without a maid, I honestly don’t see why others can’t. Please don’t take it personally, because this is just my opinion in general and I don’t know you. I just feel we’re spoiling our kids and ourselves. We don’t want to take responsibility for the child alone and neither is the child capable of behaving unless there is one full time adult keeping an eye on them.

            Yes, lots of mothers want a break. I want one too. And a mall is a safe, air conditioned place where you can use a stroller and a lift and escalator – inspite of that one sees a whole army coming in to take care of one child.

            Also, since you picked out that line, pick the line it is a response to – everything has a context and pulling it out of context means you’re missing the point. The one that says a mother carrying her child around begging has no light of love in her eyes. Frankly I’d say that is a judgment too. Do we at all times have love pouring out of our eyes? The woman is tired, is carting her child around in the heat/cold/rain/traffic – does one expect her to look loving and maternal? She needs to look worried so that we give her some alms.

    • MM, I think the gardener, sweeper and maids are in my mind very different from street beggars in terms of goals in life and the social conditioning. Most maids and other helpers usually have a place to live and they are ambitious about educating their kids. But street beggars are a different set totally….. no?

      • Very true. We don’t know. Which is why we can never be sure how they feel about having a child and whether it is the sheer joy of holding a child or not. I think a lot of us choose to do what we have to – I know parents who drug kids on long flights. How is that any better? I know parents who keep their kids glued to the TV so that they stay out of their way. How is that better?
        You’re absolutely right – Every child has a right to love, food, safety, and to run around. And yet, while we might provide food and safety, not all of us can be sure we offer love or that the child has the space to run around and stretch his legs everyday. Even that time and space is so rationed out in spite of what we earn.

        • Hey!! I give my kids Benadryl when I am on the international flight to India 🙂

          I don’t consider it drugging. I call it compassion for fellow passengers. 😀 Nobody likes a tired, cranky child on a long 15 hour flight. Specially not those who are childless by choice.

          Sorry MM. Couldn’t resist 🙂

        • Noooo…don’t judge the drugging! OK so I have never done it but after my last flight ALONE with that child for 17 hours I should get a nobel prize. Not for 25 hours of labour, not for a torn rib muscle in-utero but for that flight. Now my husband just has to say “India” and I scream I’M GOING TO DRUG HER. He has to hiss at me to stop staying it aloud in public. You don’t understand MM…no one knows the pain. Anyway, enough drama. Not sure if I will do it but lemme tell you…it’s not off the table.

          I wanted to add though that I don’t know that we can pick children watching TV or other such poor parenting choices and pit that against a whole life that is not up to a parenting choice. Heck, there is no choice. We are talking about basic needs being met, physical and mental safety – and for many of these people, it is a certainty that those needs might not be met. Yes, some of these choices may rankle you and me but a slight rankling is not the same as a fight for survival, exploitation, abuse and violence. Not sure where I’m going with this – i certainly don’t think this makes the poor’s freedom to procreate any less important. I just think our neat criteria of good and bad parenting are so far removed from theirs (which is just being parents but not necessarily parenting) that I’m not sure we can compare the two.

    • I think i would distinguish between drivers and gardners who would not just want children, but also do their utmost to ensure they get a good life to the best of their abilities. Somehow I cannot say the same about beggars….

      • Vishakha – I won’t debate that with you, simply because neither you nor I can say what goes through the mind of a gardener or the beggar.
        @Swati – :p I shall zip my lips.
        @GOTB -Oh come on, we do 48 hour train trips with two little kids and live to tell the tale.. Maybe picking the flight timing and adjusting the child’s bedtime a week or two in advance would help?
        I understand the distinction you’re making between TV and physical safety, but I want you to stop and tell me if you REALLY believe that the poor should not think about having kids simply because they don’t stand up to our levels of safety. Their kids dash across the roads while we put safety gates at the kitchen, and still stay alive. Their kids are under their eye at all times while even a kid like I, got molested under my parents’ nose. Where are the guarantees?

        • Hmmm…i have to disagree on this one MM *gasp, will she ever forgive me for this? 😀 *. I’ve done 48hr trips with two kids – alone. But it’s not the same as a 17hr flight – though i have never done it. Actually even a 2hr flight with kids freaks me out. I’d rather do the 2 day train thing. Lots of reasons – but that’s not what i want to say here.

          On the long flight – the kids cannot run about, clamber up and down berths, make friends with the uncle and their kids in the next compartment, play, stretch out and sleep comfortably…i could go on. On the flight – just the airplane food should be alone to make the kids cranky – not the forget the cramped space, the intolerance of others if your kids even just talks loudly, the uncomfortable pressure for the kids…so on. So i can get why it would actually be 17hrs of hell compared to 48hrs of fun.

          • Dude- we disagree so often! But getting to the point – its just something I find rather unconscionable. You will see the same poor people we’re talking about – gardeners and drivers, shoving their kids into general compartments and travelling for hours on end hanging out of a tempo – without drugging their kids.

            No, we are not them, but I wish we’d not make this about consideration to others and how bored the kids are. The truth is, most often we just want to make it easy for ourselves – we don’t want to make the effort – I’ve seen it so often. Don’t want to play with the kid? Put on the TV. Don’t want to see why the kid is crying? Give him a pacifier. Don’t want to entertain the kid through a long trip? Drug him. Which is what a lot of modern conveniences are about. But where do you draw the line? If its okay for you to feed your kid a bottle of cough syrup on the flight today, don’t complain when 15 years down the line he goes to school high on a bottle of Corex.

            My mother travelled in the good old days with an infant and a toddler born barely 14 months apart, sitting on the train floor without reservation for 36 hours from Madras to Allahabad. No disposable diapers, no toys, nothing. I have sat in a train that has been abandoned on the track for hours with no food and two small hungry children.

            When I had the Brat and was bringing him back to Madras, so many young mothers suggested a dose of Pedicloryl. But the Pediatrician at home was my ped when I was a kid and she very gently but firmly asked me to feed the Brat during take off and landing and learn to deal with him during the rest of the flight. I know kids play up hell and upset others, but isn’t that the thing with parenting – its your problem and you choose how you want to deal with it. Drug ’em if you want, but don’t expect others to nod in empathy or condone it. There is a reason one needs a prescription for drugs.

            These’re our kids and they trust us. And pouring a dose of drugs down a trusting child’s throat so that I can have some peace and quiet – not on.

          • nooo…not my argument at all. I BELIEVE that we HAVE to take responsibility for the kids and keep them entertained. All i feel is that it is easier on trains and much harder on flights so i would not judge. And just like the female who made some crazy and unwarranted conclusions from you saying you’d punish the kids – to say they’ll be doped when they go to college is a JUMP 😀

            People have offered to buy me flight tickets – not just family, even friends – just so i would not travel with the kids by train. And i have done more than my share of lying on the floor of train compartments and travelling unreserved both by myself (as a teenager even) and with my parents. Sometimes it was as simple as them not being able to afford tickets for all of us..and we got passed in through the windows to our parents who had clambered in. I’m just saying the effort is definitely a lot less on trains than on flights – like i said – i’d rather spend 2 nights on the train with my kids to Pondy than a 2hr flight. This is mainly because a flight is stressful for the child also. Not just the parents. So i may not agree with a decision to drug them (after all i’m the Nazi mom when it comes to TV, Comp. time, PSP’s etc..) but i cannot stand in judgement.

            Sorry to respond to my statement – but there was no reply button in yours 😀

            • No I didn’t say they will be doped when they go to college. I am saying you have no moral right to tell a kid not to use prescription drugs for reasons they are not meant for, if you’re going to use a cough or teething medication to keep him doped through a flight, right?

              There are pluses and minuses to every situation. Trains have filthy bathrooms, filthy floors, they run on their own schedules and sometimes stop in the middle of nowhere and you won’t get a cup of tea for 10 hours. So we deal with it, don’t we? Similarly, yes, a flight is short on space and cramped, but thats just too bad buddy. Would we as adults want to be drugged to sleep because someone else doesn’t want the hassle of dealing with us?

              And you and I are not the benchmark as is obvious. I know 20 families who would rather take a 2 hour flight than a 26 hour train journey to Bombay from Delhi. So they’ve made their choice already na? And then to even drug the kid to sleep on that 2 flight, is just… *shudder* The only crime here being that the kid wants to be a kid? It reminds me of the maids who drug kids with opium to keep them manageable.If we’d just put in the effort to make them behave on a daily basis at home too, they wouldn’t go bonkers in a new setting.

              Never mind, no one needs to agree – we can all agree to disagree. I’m not planning on changing my mind on this one anytime soon. Maybe I will when I’m 70 and need sleeping pills. But even then it will be my choice and hopefully not my kids. I’ll remind them that I never drugged them to keep them manageable when they were young.

  18. I am not sure I buy that argument of the poor have children because of the joy of having one and that is not to say they dont enjoy that moment when they hold that child in their arms. The one beggar lady I see frequently at the signal driving to work has a child as old as my second one 18-20 months old roughly. I have been seeing her since then carrying the child around but not once have I seen the child awake. She is always carrying the child around on her waist but the child is always sleeping. I am told they drug the child to keep it drowsy, but I am not sure, maybe the child is sick. But she is pregnant again. I am not critical or judegemental about it because I believe they know no better and that is their social conditioning but everytime I see that lady I feel for that baby in her arms who should be running and kicking around.

    • It’s not an argument at all, Sunita, but I also feel that we as the upper/middle class often feel we have the right to tell them how to live. I can’t help but imagine what it would be like if someone from a cleaner country told us we shouldn’t have kids in crowded cities and high rises apartments because they’re stuck indoors all day watching TV – and if they get out it is to crowded streets, and pollution.

      There is always a better life and a better way. And I ache for that poor drugged child. And that child may not even be that woman’s. She might be renting it. Yes, they do that too. She’s probably as rich or poor as the women who work on construction sites. But they tend to think of it as 2 more hands to work…

      • Have you read ‘Freakonomics’ ? It talks about how legalizing abortions in the US had an adverse effect on the drug peddlers base and street gun fights in the US. Here it seems it is more about awareness and social conditioning and ofcourse a better way of living.

        And then when you compare parents who drug their kids on fligts and put them in front of a TV to these, I am drawing a blank. Are these comparisions fair though? Atleast the kids in this case have their basics covered and are not running the streets, open to all kinds of abuse for one meal a day.

        • Yes I have read Freakonomics. And yes I agree with it being about awareness and social conditioning. Doesn’t change what I said though – they don’t know any better and this gives them happiness. Isn’t that the point?

          And I don’t know about fair or unfair. We’re talking about parents doing the best they can. You really think the best a parent in our position can do is stick a kid in front of the TV or feed them a sleeping tonic while travelling? We do what we think is best, they do what they think is best. I’m sure we could all do better. But should they deny themselves something that is their reproductive right as well as something that makes them happy?

          We could get into the nuance of conditioning and awareness but that would be something neither of us has statistics to prove I’m guessing. It’s a rather slippery slope when we decide to tell others what they need to have in place before having kids (although we do it all the time!). It reminds me of the Sanjay Gandhi’s sterilisation drive. We need to stop imagining that we know what is better for them…. just because they’re poor and uneducated.

  19. You are right MM. It is not out of choice that poor people get pregnant, its because they really want a child. A very close friend of mine has problem in conceiving a child. She told me about an IVF centre that she once visited, and most of the women there belonged to the lower middle class group or below than that. On one hand, I have a friend(earning more than a lakh per month) thinking twice to go for her 2nd round of IVF because of the cost and then I see these women who earn very little and still opting for the procedure. I wonder how they could afford such expensive treatment.

    • Preethi,
      Those woman are surrogates….they are getting paid to bear a child by international couples who can’t have babies on their own…..or people from the LGBT community.

      • Really…I didnt know that. I have personally met some women during my doc visits in my pregnancy, who were pregnant through IVF. I am sure not many of them are surrogate mothers. We all know that cord blood banking is a costly procedure in India and I have seen a lady pregnant with twins signing up for it and she herself told me that they are not well-situated financially.

        • I don’t agree either, Madhu. I’ve done some research with IVF centres. Not all of those women are surrogates. A lot of them are having the child for themselves. You see, in India it is the middle class that has the biggest hang ups about adopting, and the whole – pata nahi kiska ganda khoon hai business.

        • But I do agree with Preethi to some extent. I used to go to one of the expensive hospitals in Mumbai for my pregnancy check ups. During one of my visits I saw a group of around 20 ladies (in various stages of pregnancy) sitting there who did not look as if they fit there. First I thought may be it was some NGO kind initiative undertaken by the hospital. Later I heard one of the doctors asking the helpers to take all the “surrogates” to another room. That is when the whole thing sink in.

          • I’m sure its very likely – again, one of those really desi things about getting someone to carry your child for you if you can’t, rather than adopt a kid who might be ‘kisi ke paap ka phal’!

  20. Ah! What a sensitive thought-provoking post! As always, if I may add.
    I have many a times felt the same: Why bring another mouth to feed into the world when you yourself do not know where your next meal is coming from? I have also felt myself to be a tad insensitive after these thoughts – Who am I to question their choices?

    That said, as some commentors have already pointed out, the pregnancy could also be the result of something not at all pleasant, and that’s sad. Very sad.

    Can we really do something to help out – other than just donating money, clothes or food at times?

    • There are plenty of NGOs, but I feel at rest and peace mostly after doing something personally. I find it easier to pay someone’s school fees (cdhobi’s kid, driver’s kid), buy them some toys or whatever, rather than send to an NGO. That said, I do that too.. but it doesnt leave me at rest. I always wonder if it gets to the kids 😦

      • Of course, we will help the poor child tapping on our car windows, then a thousand dying in Africa. That’s more tangible, and makes us feel better. After all, what is charity if not another way to make ourselves feel better. In the end, it’s tax exemption Vs feel good factor.

        • LOL! Is that true? Charity is nothing other than a way to make ourselves feel better? In those very words? Not even a more nuanced, charity is a way to help others and find happiness in their happiness? I would love to know your thoughts on NGOs.

          Ps: I don’t think you help the child in India vs the child in Africa for reasons of tangibility alone. Its also simply easier, no? How are the starving here any less important?

          • Nothing but feel-good-deed? That would be a slight exaggeration. (For your future reference: I’m a drama queen. Take my words with loads of salt). But, that does constitute a large part of the reason behind charity – the sunshiny-feeling that we get does drive us in future to give more and more. Our empathy for a suffering fellow being has only a small role to play; other factors being peer pressure/social status, guilt (for being better off) etc. Even when we are empathetic – it’s only an emotional reaction without putting much thought in to it. That’s why our giving is mostly reactive rather than proactive. We react better to thoughtfully put together stories, designed to tug at our hearts. And that’s one reason why only (usually) the really rich donate to researches.

            A pregnant lady begging – she sure needs help. And we would help. What about the physical and psychological changes she’s undergoing! That’s family drama. But, let’s take a moment to think about organized begging and the ring leader. Now, that’s a mafia story…thriller. It appeals to us in a different way. Definitely not the same way as a family drama does.

            Previously, I wasn’t trying to say people dying in Africa sound less tragic because they are so remote and hard to help. I was trying to say, we react to what we see in front of us. Even if we can help thousands with minimal discomfort, we choose to help the kid whom we have met – that’s tangible, and gives us an immediate satisfaction. There’s also the numbers to think about. We help 1 out of 10. We hesitate to help 100 out of 1000. Isn’t 100>10? Yes, but we are thinking about those 900 who wouldn’t get our help, and our effort ‘seems’ futile.

            In my opinion it’s better to donate through NGOs – organized distribution of funds makes sure that what you give is better utilized. There are so many options today, even lending money through websites like RangDe (www.rangde.org). But how much time do we take before deciding upon our ‘chosen’ NGO? Does it have a good reputation for what they do rather than for how they advertise? Can you check on what’s really happening at their back-end? Or do they smartly block such nosiness through strategically planned ‘goodies’ like a picture of the child whom you helped?!

            Sorry, such a long comment, couldn’t help it.

            By the way, there’s nothing wrong in feeling good after helping somebody, is there?

            • I see your point. I think we’re just lumping all good deeds in one big pile. I have never spoken about the charity we do on this blog, because potty talk, sex, its all up for discussion, but the Bible says let not your left hand know what your right hand gives and I stick to that. so.. point being the charity we do, has been well researched and we follow up. the OA is the best person to do such stuff because I tend to get emotional. but he is very particular about seeing if the money is being used well, following up with the beneficiaries etc. But we’re just donating. There is also a whole section out there who work for charity. they fall into another category. They’re also doing something good and it must be a strong emotion for them to make it a vocation. I agree, that its good to donate through NGOs, but often you come across the driver’s daughter, the gardener’s wife, all in need of surgery. its quite safe to go to the hospital and directly pay the amount.

              No, there is nothing wrong in feeling good after the deed, but there is something not-so-nice in the way you put it first. where it seemed like you were doing it only to make yourself feel better – almost like salve on conscience. I’d say that is a negative way of looking at it and a rather unfair tarnishing of a whole bunch of good people. As for being a drama queen – hell, you’re in the right place, sistah!

          • I think you should talk about charity. May be Bible just meant you shouldn’t be bragging about your good deeds. It’s proven that when people talk about the charitable work they did, a few others in the herd get inspired; and a small percentage will take up that path.

            Not so strangely, people are immune to statements like “I donated Rs X to CRY”. But, saying “We spent kiddo’s last birthday at X orphanage” is very powerful. Cheesy, but powerful. And it will do for inspiring someone. Some people think “I can do that/I would love to do that”.

            And on a brighter side, trolls are gonna love that and your blog will be all hot’n’spicy once again 😉

  21. Dear MM, after reading all the wonderful comments on this page I have decided that what I had to say has been said so much better by the commenters.
    To comment with a clear conscience on your blog you have to make sure you comment right after you post!

  22. If the poor stop having children, will this world be rid of poverty, or crime?

    The onus of children not being born into crushing poverty and crime lies overwhelmingly on the government and society. That is why there is so much lobbying for making elementary education compulsory – that will place the onus squarely on the gocernment.

    That the begging mafia stops – whose responsibility is that? Surely not those who are oppressed by them.

    To ask the poor (even the very poor) to stop having children (in both instances when they choose or have simply been forced upon) is not the solution and quite frankly dehumanising.

  23. All the questions you have asked MM..have gone thru’ my mind. I recollect, in a previous post of yours, a commenter mentioning that there should be a test for couples before they are allowed to have children. I was shaking my head in agreement. I couldn’t agree more. That thought has crossed my mind several times. when I read of a man selling his 3-mth old for a crate of beer…I couldn’t help wondering what on earth God was thinking when he made that man a father.

    Have you read the book ‘A child Called it”. It’s a 3-part series and a true story. Please do read it and you know what I’m saying when I say “how can parents like that be given the privilege to bring a life into this earth?”

    My colleague Andrea, works part-time to help in a home for orphaned children. Children have to leave this home once they turn 18 and Andrea has been in touch with one girl even after she left the home ‘coz she grew too close to her. About 3 months back this girl , who is 21 gave birth to a baby boy, Jordan and didn’t/doesn’t want anything to do with him. No one including the girl knows who the father is. so was it right for her to get pregnant in the first place?? Andrea’s daughter, Jen, has now offered to adopt Jordan(How kind!! God Bless her!) But it is a long drawn out process and weighs on the pockets…so well, its going to take a while. Meanwhile this girl has come back and said that Jen can adopt her, but yet Jordan must call her “mom” once she is ready! Wonder what she is smoking!

    God knows, that all rich parents are not good parents and so money cannot be a criteria for people having Children .Of course..no one has the right to tell poor people that they cannot have babies. But that being said, I think a good parent will think about their child’s future and basic needs i.e food, clothes, shelter, education (yes, in my opinion education is a basic need)…and know that they should not be be having babies if they can’t provide these fundamental things.

    • You know, in theory I agree with all of you. But in practice, can we tell a poor person that they don’t have the basic right to reproduce because they don’t have what we think it takes to raise a child? They’re alive and clearly feeling okay about themselves.. okay enough to multiply…

    • You need moolah even for the basic needs (food, clothes, shelter, education). So, are we telling the poor that they cannot have children because….well, because they are poor.

      The only thing that doesn’t cost a thing is love – you can’t quantify it and you can’t guarantee it.

  24. I forgot to mention in my previous omment…n i’ve clearly been thinking tpoo much about this topic…. but have you see the tamil movie “Deiva-tirumagal”…. if not , do see it.I’m sure u’ll like it. I cried a lot while seeing that movie…
    I don’t want to give the story away….but what about cases like that??I cant seem to make my mind up on what is apt in that kinda situation.

  25. Have read through your post & the comments.
    I’ve also noticed how a lot of joy is brought into their lives when a child is born.On the other hand,just the day before there was an article in the papers about one such street mother who was found regularly feeding her 10 month old alcohol.The child had pneumonia & has now been admitted to hopspital in a critical condition after the intervention of the police , on repeated complaints by people in the neighbourhood.The police said they were hesitant to intervene earlier as they did not want to take the child from the mother till they were forced to.There was a photo of the mother & child too.People reacted that they were horrified at the mother’s act but she looked so forlorn & pitiable herself in the photo that I wondered if we can really blame her.What do we know of her circumstances?Maybe she was an addict herself in need of help.Am not justifying what she did but like you said ,we are nobody to judge either.

    • Oh God, how sad 😦 Makes my heart break. On the other hand, no one said that being a parent means you are necessarily a good parent. That is something I’ve said time and again in posts. So many parents are just horrible people that they shouldn’t be allowed near other humans, let alone their own offspring.
      There are so many kids from richer homes who are sexually abused by their parents, beaten up, all sorts. We can’t use one example to paint the whole lot of them.

  26. I know.I’ve seen that too.Kids left entirely with maids & nannies while the parents are always busy or out having a good time.Once they’re older they’re parcelled off to the “best” boarding school.The only time they are “parents” is when they put the kids on display in front of visitors/friends asking them to recite a poem or sing a song or some such thing to show “uncle or aunty” how clever they are.Makes me want to shake them up.

  27. ” It’s such a luxury to have a choice. To be able to choose when to have a child. To say you will only do it after you make CFO or after you’ve bought a house and created a retirement fund. After you’ve had your folic acid and worked out to get to your optimum weight. After you’ve been bungee jumping and done that trip to Peru. After you’ve bought your parents a second sedan and a flat screen TV.

    I wonder what it’s like to have no idea where your next meal will come from. To live under a plastic sheet on the roadside. To have two torn shirts and no certain bathroom or source of water. To stand at car windows and knock, hoping for some mercy. And yet have the strength to go ahead with a pregnancy”

    These words hit very hard ,MM. All the more because I do have the luxury of many such choices and YET I complain/crib about small aspects of my life. I am not saying we are not entitled to crib/complain but still puts a lot of things in perspective.
    An example would be, when I waste food sometimes-I know,I am immensely ashamed of it.All the more after reading your post because ,for some reason ,without your intending to(I think), it has hit me on a LOT of other topics .
    Thanks for this post,MM. Made me think a lot.
    Sona

  28. Pingback: Have a good weekend and Jai Hind | The Mad Momma Online

  29. “To ask the poor (even the very poor) to stop having children (in both instances when they choose or have simply been forced upon) is not the solution and quite frankly dehumanising.”

    We have a lot of poverty and a lot more dehumanising of it. Really liked the poster who said do not dehumanise the poor

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