Car Windows and Cake – Hardly Enough…

What do you do if a beautiful beggar child is befriending your daughter?

Every day on the drive home after school we pass a busy intersection near our house. The light is very long and most days we are caught in traffic for a generous five minutes waiting for the light to turn and the cars to inch forward.   There are a handful of regular beggars at this lucrative intersection – most of the cars are coming from the embassy district and they are heading out to moneyed neighborhoods.   After six months of this routine we recognize the beggars, which is a good thing for them, since it becomes harder to avoid the pleas of someone you have been watching for over half a year.

Maya is a little girl about Lala’s age (10).   She is unkept and dirty, but the child has a beaming face and a smile that’s difficult to forget.  Lala has been giving her food and water from the car for a while  – and now, the exchange flows from Maya to Olivia with quick conversations through the window and yesterday, a red rose.

To know that Lala’s middle name is Rose and to have watched Maya give away the only tangible thing she had – the flowers she sells to support herself, her family, and most likely her handler – left me with much to think about.   Where does this relationship go?  How do I support Lala’s need to reach out without becoming too involved with this little girl?   Should we do more for her?    Can we help her in a way that could change the pace and promise of her life?

What Lala sees and how she responds to the world and what I model are all significant episodes in a little life that has yet to be lived.   Regardless of whether this relationship goes or grows, Lala has already played a role that will teach her something.  I can’t help but want for her the notion that she is not powerless in a world that doesn’t always make sense.   Yet at the same time, she needs to accept that there are things we simply cannot change.  Can she do that and still see that the weight of the world doesn’t necessarily have to inhibit or paralyze us?

Does this make any sense out there?   Sometimes, the private conversations we have with ourselves don’t always translate well.

As for the larger questions here, right now I have no answers.  Both Lala and I need to follow our instincts and just see where we land.  Today, Lala packed Maya a lunch bag filled with healthy goodies.  I’ll keep you posted.


And now a story grossly counter to the one shared above.  It’s about the chief minister of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh.  The chief minister is the head of the state’s governing coalition (think parliamentary system here) and it’s the most powerful political position within state politics.  UP’s chief minister is a woman named Mayawati.   She hails from one of the “backward classes” and considers herself the voice of India’s Dalit caste – formerly described as the “untouchables”.  Personally, she reminds me of Ursula, the blubbery and wicked octopus in the Disney movie, The Little Mermaid.   When we moved to India this summer Mayawati was embroiled in accusations of misusing vast amounts of public money (millions?  maybe a billion? more?) to build grand-scale statues of herself in public places across UP.  She also builds statues of the founder of her party and of elephants, her party’s symbol. (Political parties and politicians have symbols so illiterate voters can recognize them on ballots.)  Also worth mentioning is that the leader of Mayawati’s party is called the “supremo”…. so Mayawati is the supremo of the BSP and the chief minister of UP, which, by the way, has a population of nearly 200 million people.

This week, Mayawati literally looked like an octopus on a stage when she was draped in a super-hero-sized garland of cash at a political rally.  Take a look:

Yes, that’s a big necklace of Indian Rupees – worth a speculated 400,000 to 2 million USD.  She also has a penchant for lavish public birthday parties with huge cakes.  I’ve read that Mayawati has grown very rich since becoming chief minister.  I suppose that’s no surprise if you’re shoplifting with eight arms.  Meanwhile, residents of UP face high crime rates, poverty, and poor health services… but they get to eat free cake on the supremo’s birthday.


Here’s what we’ve been up to…

Traffic on Delhi’s nicest highway:

I had a Girlfriend visiting from Nairobi…. (sorry Maya – this was the only shot I had of you)  and look at her chugging down my  whiskey sour!  (Thanks to a friend with connections, I even have marachino cherries in those sours…)

Our house dogs, Julie (black) and A Boy Named Penny (white chest):

Born to be couch potatoes:  (or bed bugs…)

11 thoughts on “Car Windows and Cake – Hardly Enough…”

  1. Theo,

    Great, painful, moving story about Lala and her friend, Maya.

    I cannot imagine the challenges of raising kids in such circumstances.

    One thing that I kept thinking as I read your post was no matter what happens, Lala is ALREADY changing this child’s life (as well as her own) through each small action of kindness. Maybe that is all that can be hoped for in this cruel and unfair world we sometimes inhabit.

    Thanks for sharing this with us. It DOES translate.


    1. john – thanks for the feedback. i have an amazing daughter – and sometimes i am in awe of how she manages all that we drag her through.
      the mardi gras goodies you sent – a reminder that life should be lived!! again, thank you. xoxo

  2. Theo,
    Lala’s moving relationship with Maya is so valuable for them both. Lala is a naturally compassionate child, and Maya is seeing and experiencing that compassion; every day she is learning from Lala. When Maya is an adult, she will remember Lala with love. Who knows, maybe the two can become friends for life … maybe Maya will find her way in the world because her little American friend showed her such kindness. I do hope so . The bond between the two girls is a true gift.

    As for dear Penny and Julie … what sweet dogs! And especially Penny … what a personality he/she has. I’m still hoping …!

    Thoughts and love,

    1. mother dearest:

      penny has freedom here to roam and live a life without fences. everyone loves her (she’s “shadow” to others in the neighborhood) and she has a happy hindu existence! xoxo

  3. Theo,

    I have actually been telling a few patients about your blog. I hope it’s ok if I give out the URL.

    One patient does a lot of travel in a medical missionary kind of way. Anyway, he had an interesting take, that compassion is not a Hindu virtue per se.

    The reasoning goes something like this: The poor are poor because they have to atone for karmic “sins” of the past…. I guess that is how the natives can waste the money to fly a helicopter to their wedding while all around is poverty (thanks for the cover story in today’s paper Jim!)

    Seems a bit spurious to me, because if you do nothing aren’t you dooming yourself karmically to end up impoverished yourself? Who knows.

    I’m glad Lala inspires, that is the best of what childhood can do for us, and helps offset all the yelling we have to do! It must be so hard that there are no answers, but so much of life is just like that, although perhaps less obviously than this is…

    As for the MG stuff, glad you liked it! Does the shirt fit?

  4. I am similarly recognizing some of the children at the intersections and we have something going on too. Such a hard one, I know but even that smile and the passing biscuit or hello helps or perhaps that is what I want to believe.
    As for Mayawati I am so glad you blogged about it. I was going to do it but got caught up writing about Jaipur. Is there no shame ? Love m

  5. jennifer has been so kind to share your thoughts with us. you give us such insight into your lives. the lessons you share with lala will always be a part of her and she is also learning that sometimes the answer is “i don’t know.” to you and jim…only the best .

    1. nancy! what a pleasure to know that you are reading some of the blog. thanks for the note and encouragement above. i hope you are well and getting to spend lots of time with your beautiful grandchildren. it looks as though i will see jen in SF this summer. a blessing! t

  6. India is a land of beauty and sorrow. The sweet smiles bring such poignancy to the desperate situations of these children.

    You are right about Penny. Mum’s do have scatterbrained ideas …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s