A mother, not a meal ticket
Enroute to the hospital where I interned, I would pass a woman who sat on the footpath right across from Sir Ganga Ram Hospital’s new emergency ward. She was very old and frail and it was easy to conclude at just a glance that she was not of the sound mind.
She just sat there begging, day in and day out. Sometimes, she would even lie down on the footpath, obviously completely tired out by the whole day’s exertion.
At first, I thought her only home was the footpath. However, this was not the case.
After two weeks just observing her, I finally decided to talk to her and maybe help her. On April17, I took some time off from my duty hours and went to meet her.
Up close, she looked even more frail. Her face was completely wrinkled, probably because of the harsh conditions she was living under, and her eyes were completely blank – totally devoid of any expression. I tried to talk to her but it seemed that she could not hear me very well. Realising the futility of any attempts to converse with her, I gave her some money and walked away.
Even so, I could not shake the image of her blank eyes from my mind. Although they were completely empty, they still told the story of her life; a life that had left her senseless. I went to her the next day, and to my amazement, she recognised me easily and greeted me warmly. I sat with her for a few minutes hoping to draw some information from her. However, I could not make out the meaning of the few words she managed to utter.
Defeated, I left again. By now, I had reached the conclusion that she was homeless. I thought maybe I could arrange for her to be taken to a shelter for the homeless. To that end, I called mental asylums and shelters.
Most of them were not willing to take in someone that old and without proper mental capacity, as such people required excessive care. I finally called the Edhi helpline, where I was given the number of the lady in charge of the female shelter house.
After several attempts, she picked up the phone and as I narrated my story, she responded with curt “mmhmms”. Taken aback, I asked if she was busy. She informed me that indeed, she was. I still continued as she was my only hope. She asked me to call her the next day and said that she would send an ambulance to pick the old woman up. I gushed out my thanks, which was met with a phone beep.
On April 19 2012, I went to meet the old lady again and was greeted with a smile. While I tried to make conversation with her, another female beggar approached me and what she told me left me utterly speechless.
I was informed that the old woman was not homeless. Not only did she have a house, but she also had a son – a son who dropped her off on the roadside at six every morning and picked her up at night. Being kind-hearted as he was, he would also leave a bottle of water with his mother so she did not die of thirst while she begged for money to feed him.
Coming back to the hospital, I called Edhi again and within half an hour an ambulance arrived.
I guided the ambulance to the poor old lady. The ambulance driver told her that he was here to take her to a place where she would be fed, clothed and given shelter.
To my astonishment I saw a spark of annoyance flash in the old lady’s eyes. Although she could not speak much, she gestured angrily with her hands, asking us to leave her alone.
The driver tried again, however, to no avail. Giving up, he left after telling me that this was very common nowadays. Many families left their children and elderly on the streets to beg.
I too left, realising many things.
The old woman was starved and clad in rags on purpose by her so-called family so hat she could gain other people’s attention and mercy. I suppose the justification her family would offer for treating her so would be that if she looked healthy, she would not make for a good beggar. The old woman had probably not wanted to leave due to her ill-founded loyalty towards her son; she had made peace with her situation.
Today, millions of children around the world are celebrating Mother’s Day by showering their mothers with presents and love. However, it is depressing to notice that in some dark corners of the world, other are banishing their old mothers on the street to satiate their own hunger.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.