While waiting at a traffic signal on a busy Bangalore road, I glanced over a tiny roadside shop. At first, nothing seemed unusual. The owner was talking over the phone while trying to arrange his goods. At the entrance of the shop, a small boy, about a year old was wobbling around. The owner was probably his father or his uncle, and this shop was most likely his “day-care” so his mother could supplement the family income.
My eyes focused on the little boy, who was wearing a dirty old pair of shorts and trying to balance himself on the step at the entrance of the shop. Six months ago, that would have been the extent of my observation. But now I notice more; one side of his shorts was soaked from the lack of a diaper.
The child had been wet for a while. His soiled shorts blurred that otherwise ordinary Indian scene, and my mind started drowning in a pool of thoughts. Was his father going to notice? Would he change or dry his shorts? Did he have another pair? What about an infection? How long can he stay wet? Why was the child not crying? Had he learnt over time that it’s futile to cry?
I stared at that child’s face. There was both innocence and surrender in those eyes. I nudged my husband in the driver’s seat, and pointed to the wet shorts. He knew what had upset me, and verbalized it for me. Our baby sleeping peacefully in the rear car seat was no different, and yet very different from that child. The world had made sure the difference was stark in the level of care they each received. Our son was born to parents who obsessed about changing his diapers on demand, never letting his tiny butt stay wet. They used a superior brand of diapers, and meticulously noted the best practices on BabyCenter and hundreds of other parenting websites. Need I say more?
I closed my eyes hoping the difference I could see would go away. It’s not easy to forget that child especially for a recent mother. I often picture his eyes when I change my son’s diapers and I silently pray that his mother comes back quickly to change and feed him. I know that mothers are not different in any part of society yet children turn out very different based on God’s choice of mother.
I could not change that child’s diaper that day. I cannot do a lot of other things too. A cynic would say there are too many unsolved problems and you would stop living if you question yourself at each turn. I am more optimistic. My hope is that someday a new social framework will emerge, one that is inclusive and sustainable, where it is possible for mothers to support each other.
It cannot be ‘my child’ vs. ‘your child’. It should not be.
A week after I published this post, I came across a thought-provoking post on inclusive thinking by Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund. The post also led me to the eye-opener I’m currently reading, Behind the Beautiful Forevers. I must say that when a journalist covers a topic, she brings out the nuances that are often missed by scholars.