One day on the train to Bangalore
She must be no older than 18. Or 20, at the most. Her eyes are slumped into a hollow, her cheeks tired and shallow. The child on her waist is perhaps too wasted to even cry. You spot her in the far corner as she makes her way across the train carriage holding her hand out for some spare change. You can never decide whether or not to tip beggars. Sometimes you feel guilty and drop a few coins into the outstretched palm and quickly look away. On other days you remember the article in India Today that talked about organised criminal networks behind the begging mafia. You look up at her and note that she is fast approaching you. You don't have long to make up your mind. She could be your daughter. Heck, she could have been you but for a quirk of fate. But then again, she is young, she is able-bodied. Surely, she could find some respectable work. Or perhaps, she is forced into begging by her drunkard husband. Who may beat her tonight if she doesn't bring home enough. So then, why doesn't she leave him and fend for herself? Surely, it cannot be worse than suffering an abusive husband. But if she did, she would become poor and destitute. At least now, she has a man to call her own.
She is standing in front of you now. Her palm upturned. Pleading with you to find a few coins in your pocket. You don't raise your eyes. Your nose is buried in the book in your hand. The man next to you drops some small change. You hear them clink as she moves away. You feel a pair of eyes boring into you. As if to say, how heartless can you be? I'm a kind and generous person, you want to scream. You should see me when elderly beggars approac. But instead, you immerse yourself in the pages. You wish the novel was deeply engrossing.