and sometimes it’s too late by the time we ask for help when we need it…
Earlier today the doorbell rang. It was the lady who collects the trash from all houses in the building. She was crying and asked for Sonali. Seems that the guy who used to do the rounds with her has not been coming to do the rounds past few months. He is dying… from cancer. The doctors at Tata Memorial have given up and discharged him because he is no longer responding to medication. She is like an elder sister to him and in the almost five years that we have seen them working they have been extremely respectful and helpful. In fact the way this lady or even other workers in the building rush to help you if you were to need help it is remarkable in this day and age. Most often it is when I am driving out and one of them will appear out of nowhere and press the button for the car lift so that I don’t need to get out of the car to do that. The little things that say we care.
Of course the helpful nature is reciprocated and not just in cash. I remember this one incident when the guy who brings in the laundry was struggling with his huge bundle of ironed clothes. We were a little ahead and someone rushed to help him unload the bundle from the cycle. It was a resident of one of the flats in the society. He admonished the guy for trying to carry so much on his cycle and then walked off to his idling car, a Jaguar XJ no less. That is humility which is rare and that is humility that breeds loyalty. Loyalty that ensures that you see the same people rush to help you when you need help with the lift button for instance.
So anyway the lady was crying. She told the story of Raju (let’s not take real names because frankly this can be anyone). How he had been diagnosed with cancer a few months back, how he was immobile for the past three days now, how there was no health insurance provided by the housekeeping contractor, that the salary of 7500 bucks a month was not enough. Most important how his two kids, 7 and 10 years old, clung to her whenever she brought him back from the hospital and asked her to tell them that dad will be ok or asked what happened to papa? She said that as a last resort, after the doctors at Tata Memorial gave up, his wife and this lady, his co-worker, had decided to take him to a village near Nashik to an ayurvedic doctor who is known to have guaranteed treatments for cancer. It was for this trip that she was going to some of the select houses in the building and asking if they could contribute some amount of money to pay for the expenses. SG came in and the door slammed shut because of a draft.
I was inside working on something and SG came in and told me the sad story. The part about two kids 7 and 10 shook me up. No dad should have to be so helpless. I said even without thinking yeah let’s give her 50K. SG probably hadn’t processed it while talking to the woman but in my case that’s the first reaction “Give whatever anyone needs because we will always have everything we need”… it’s complicated but that is my theory of life. So she went out to talk to the lady assuming she was still there, which she was not. Probably she had assumed SG will call her later and give her the money. Anyway so SG went looking on the floor below and found her gathering the garbage there. Brought her back up and asked about the bank details etc. Turns out guy has no bank account either because he is illiterate. He has no family either because he was thrown out of his parents home due to an alcohol problem. Just stays with the kids and wife now and past two days has not been able to get off the bed either. Well from a security consultant pedestal the no bank account thing should make all the alarms go off and both Sonali and I are IT Security professionals. And they did go off in my head at least, I am somehow keener when it comes to fraud detection.
Anyway long story short I suggested that instead of giving a lump sum that tends to get used up in frivolous stuff we should setup a monthly transfer for the sake of the children. We would transfer a sum equal to his monthly salary into this lady’s account and she would handle the payout to the children and their mother. She explained he often talks about bumping himself off because of the pain complaining how he is useless to his children. I told her to tell him this “if you want to do anything for your children then get the ayurvedic treatment and hang in there for at least 7-8 more years. They need you to be around even as a vegetable and as far as money goes you will have more than enough to make sure that you are providing for them. This is not throwaway money, this is money you have earned through your work by going above and beyond the call of duty when you cleaned clogged drains and overflowing gutters for us in this society. You have earned this money never let it seem like it is a charity. Every month we will deposit the amount and your kids will have enough to get onto their own two feet. After that once you have seen them grow up you can think about giving in to the disease, till then you have to fight!”. We have had multiple cases of end stage cancer in the family where alternative medicine has ensured better palliative care and given the patients at least 8 years of quality life after the credentialed doctors have given up. In 8 years his sons would be 15 and 18 respectively. Elder one old enough to have entered the National Defence Academy to become an armed forces officer and the younger one on his way to a similar future. Maybe just maybe he would see the elder one cross the Antim Pag.
We take so long to ask for help… we take so long to offer a decent amount of help as well. I asked how much is his monthly salary. She says 7500 bucks. It made me feel ashamed. A city like Mumbai where even temporary shanties cost 1500 bucks to rent how can one justify paying such a measly amount? SG explained that a similar amount is paid to the cleaning staff at office as well. This is the norm all over Mumbai. Is it so difficult to pay these people a decent living? 15-20K a month maybe? Why would we want to have the children grow up in such a constricted environment where everything is too expensive for them? Then we see it and we rush to provide subsidized everything as a means to fill in the gap. Why cause a gap to begin with. 20K a month as minimum wages regardless of what work is being done should be the norm. Yes there are laws to the effect but is the machinery really that weak that it cannot identify the leakages? That there are contractors who are unable to pay that amount because the societies in turn do not pay them enough? Only to later turn around and rush to help such cases as charity cases. Why is it important to feel important and big? Let people live with dignity while they are healthy.
I guess it comes from our conditioning as a society that believes in a higher power and that if we beg with folded hands HE will bestow us with riches. Begging and praying for a basic livelihood is not something that should be the prime activity of a very large section of our population. Those who can afford to pay when the shit hits the fan should be equally generous when there is no emergency. For who knows if Raju had had a reasonable salary he might have gone to the doctor earlier and might not have had to die… leaving behind two kids who will always think that cancer killed their dad when they were 7 and 10 respectively… never knowing that the cancer was not in their dads body but in society… a society that refuses to pay cleaning staff more than what they spend everyday at dinner. A cancer that makes them believe in religion and disrespect the souls that the same Gods they pray to created.