Silent Strength



She had a printed scarf tied around her head and wore a spotless, though worn, suit. A purse dangled around her shoulder, and nothing in her mien suggested that she was a beggar except for the fact that she had her dupatta outstretched. She stood at the traffic lights and reached out to everyone who stopped. Without uttering a syllable, she simply stretched out her dupatta-covered arms and moved towards anyone who cared to offer her a coin or a note.

For a week, I saw her without fail at the same spot. Her face didn’t betray the haggard or leathery appearance of a life beggarly lived. Her body despite her years was neither stooped nor manifested any signs of malnourishment. My curiosity was piqued by the regular sighting of this unbeggarly-looking beggar lady.

One fine day, determined to put my inquisitiveness to rest. I stopped my car at the roadside, and waited for the light to turn green. No sooner did the light turn green than the lady returned to a seating spot at the footpath. It was here that I waylaid her.

“Aunty, if you don’t mind can I ask you something?”

Her blank eyes searched my face as if trying to form words in her mouth that she had long forgotten to use.

“You don’t look like you’ve begged all her life. What circumstances have brought you to this footpath? What turn of fate has forced you to beg at the roadside?”

Her blank eyes betrayed a glimmer of hope that vanished as soon as it had appeared. She sat down on the pavement with her head bent low, resting it almost between her knees.

I looked at her gnarled hands that hung loose and lifeless. There was no dirt under her fingernails but the fingers were bent and misshapen.

The slow whisper that emanated from down below was inaudible, so I too, despite the oddly embarrassing situation, took a seat beside her on the curb. Shutting out all the roadside noises, I strained my ears to tune in to the frequency of her decibels.

“My husband died in an accident when my son was a mere toddler. I started working in a private school to earn my livelihood and raised my only son with dignity.”

I looked at her hands once again and tried to imagine those gnarled fingers holding a piece of chalk between them.

“My son, on coming of age, married the girl of his choice who, as soon as she stepped into our lives, made them miserable. Whatever my son earned went into meeting her demands and the household expenses were met with my meagre salary.

Three years ago, I retired from my job. As I had taken time-to-time loans, I didn’t get much funds as retirement emoluments. Last year, my son, who worked in a private factory, met with a severe accident that paralyzed him. My paltry savings went into his treatment. I had to sell my house and we shifted to a rented accommodation.

A few months ago, my daughter-in-law’s parents came, and took her away, saying that their daughter would not live with an incapacitated man. After all, she cannot live like a slave all her life.

You see dear, she can afford to sever ties with her husband, but I can’t abandon my only son. I have to feed him, clothe him and get him treated. And when it comes to her children, a mother knows no shame!”

The light turned red and she quietly gathered all her strength to move from one vehicle to another with her outstretched dupatta.


Dr. Sonika Sethi