Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gift exchange

I could have a blog just about the things that happen while riding in auto rickshaws.

I was on my way home when the oft-seen little beggar/hawker children tried to get me to buy a string of jasmine blossoms. I told them I didn't need one but they still hung around the auto asking me.
The little girl's eye was caught by my recent purchase, "What's that?" she asked. I had bought some synthetic grass with little sea shells on it to put in a vase and it was poking out of the shopping bag.
I didn't know the Hindi word so I told her in English that they were shells. It struck me that she's probably never seen a lake or the ocean, maybe never even heard of it. How do you explain, then, what a shell is?
The little boy laid a string of the jasmine blossoms over my arm. "No, I don't need it," I told him and held my arm out to him. He wouldn't take it.
Again I tried to return the blossoms but he backed out of reach. "Gift," he said. It was late in the day and the blossoms were wilting. Perhaps he knew he would be unable to sell them to anyone.
The little girl, who was still admiring the shells and longing to touch one, also laid some jasmine blossoms over my arm. "Gift," she repeated after the boy.
This was too much for me. I reached into the bag and loosened one of the pieces of shell grass and gave it to the girl. She thought it was wonderful. After she looked at it she handed it back.
"Gift," I told her.
The boy then said something I couldn't understand and tried to keep the girl from taking the shell grass. I said again that was a gift. As the light changed and the traffic began to go forward, the boy wrestled it away from the girl and threw it back into the moving auto.
My impulse was to throw it out again onto the sidewalk where hopefully the little girl could find it.
But I didn't.
Instead I straightened out the bent end and slipped it back into my bag.
Maybe the boy was protecting them from something I don't understand. Even though I cannot comprehend the world of their street-life, I still want to treat them with dignity and honor.
The smell of jasmine blossoms went with me all the way home.

1 comment:

square peg believer said...

wow---what a poignant story!