A sketch of the beggars who live in my neighbourhood in India.
| Brokenback Finger Man. His fingers curl back to the wrist, like Playdough columns caving in on themselves. His palms are convex as he begs for alms, pleading with those who pass by. Occasionally the rich want salvation, and graciously, grudgingly, give up a coin. The beggar's wrist does the movement as his fingers point back down at the pavement. When the wrist flicks the coins in the old tin can.
It's this beggar's corner of sidewalk. He sits between sewer and shrine. Repetition and life submission-the samesame day after day. The date on the rupees that might be dropped are the only variation. 1984 with it's dulled edges and crackened, blackened crevices. 2008 gleams optimistically into the future. A paise is dropped: forgotten in the vaulting economy - it's more insult than alms.
The days stretch out torturously: a chain with links of sleep, rotating around the crank of the rack that will stretch him beyond recognition.
Turning a corner there is Limbless Man on his square inch of sidewalk. Unable to sit, and unable to reach, he lies on his stomach and grovels in gravel. His friends are the feet that follow their daily routines. The cracked red leather chappals stop at the shrine every day at 8 o'clock. The cracked burping toenails of elephant density rub against red rotting leather.The kitten-heeled pumps pad the pavement flirtatiously. To the market and back again they clip and they clop. Their toes, smell of earthy red henna. The vines curl seductively around the toes. Dreaming of discos, the four-wheeled roller-skates wobble precariously by. Once. Twice. Thrice. They still have no confidence. Limbless Man is treated to the sight of a hand as it bends down to scratch fingers between skin and skate.
Friends with feet, Limbless Man whispers stories he's had no one to tell. Stories of drunks and knives, of matches and eyes. Feet friends walk off without a word.
The informal Society Women sit around in a circle. They are sharp-eyed and hold reputations on their forked tongues. Arranging their begging mats for money, they abandon them in favour of Sisterhood. Any money received lays open for thieves - as backs turned they discuss marriage and dowry. Their sagging breasts hang out of their sarees as their blouses disintegrate in the hot sun. A delicious morsel of gossip spreads their paan-stained teeth into a smile. They drink tea with metal cups and scoops of sugar. Take a sip and pass it on. They are careful not to touch the hot metal with their lips. They elegantly hunt through restaurant garbages for dinner. Dreaming of crumpets, they lick wet sambar out of the earth.
Baby begs for Mommy while she sleeps off the night's work. His chocolate nakedness is covered only by a red thread around his hips, and a suit made out of dust. At two years old he has mastered the art of begging. Wide eyes, wet eyes feign misery for money. Things are fine in Baby's mind as the world is technicolour and hungry. Amma, Alms, and Arjan's Liquor Store. Everything is in it's colourful puzzle-piece place. Baby eyes watch swollen eyes of sour-smelling drunks. Baby laughs at the imprint of metal grate on the faces. The crows pushes the buyer up against the liquor store window. They trip in their haste to liquify. She's not old cloth, she's Mommy, but they trip over her just the same. She's so thin you can look right through her. Cuts decorate her face, from the man in the night who liked the look of blood. Baby picks up a mango pit and sucks at the far-away taste. A few half-rotting mangoes behind the market last week. Baby's First Mango. They sucked the sweet off the stone, taste-buds weeping in ecstasy.