Feb 22, 2024
Feb 22, 2024
Just a few months ago, I went for a trip to India. It was meant just as a vacation to meet with my family.
After moving to the United States in 1992, my parents have taken me back to visit almost every summer. India and America feel like two completely different worlds. Everything is just so different from the language to the food. The thing I noticed right away on my very first trip was the poverty. I always knew that because of over population and lack of education, there was a great deal of poverty in India, but I didn’t quite understand the extent of this poverty.
After my first week in India, I was sitting on the sofa at my grandpa’s apartment in the city of Bhopal watching some old Hindi movie, and then he realized that I was getting bored at home. I had seen this classic movie a couple times already. I pretty much knew it word for word. My grandfather is a very active person who seems to be doing something productive almost twenty four hours a day, so when he saw me getting bored he gave me a suggestion:
“Why don’t you come with me to help out at the hospital” he said in his accented English.
I figured, sure why not. I was wasting my time at home anyway; I might as well go check it out.
“Chalo chalte hein,” I replied, simply saying, “Sure lets go.”
Being 6’ 2”, the ride to the hospital in my grandfather’s tiny car was not fun at all. My head hit the ceiling on every little crack and bump, and my knees were almost touching my face. The 15 minute car ride felt more like 2 hours. I would later find out it was well worth the discomfort. As we walked inside, I could not believe this was a hospital. I was used to seeing the squeaky clean and bright hospitals here in America, so I was absolutely shocked at what I saw. The almost ancient walls were falling apart, the ceilings were leaking something that definitely didn’t look like water, and the narrow hallways were ridiculously overcrowded. At first, I felt uncomfortable. Not only was it not hygienic, but everywhere I went, people were staring at me because my head was almost touching the ceiling. I thought to myself that they were probably just as uncomfortable around me, the “towering foreign boy”, as I was being in that hospital.
My grandpa showed me around the decaying buildings and introduced me to some of the staff and volunteers. In particular, I remember the burn ward because it was so gruesome. After seeing people with disgusting third degree burns, I felt my stomach churn and my gag reflex start to kick in, but I tried my best to hold it in.
At the end of the tour, I saw a line ten times any line at Cedar Point. I asked my grandpa, “What are all these people waiting for?” He explained to me, they couldn’t afford food, so they were waiting to get some free food.
Then he said to me,” Tell you what, why don’t you serve them their food for the day.”
At first, I was reluctant to do so because of the way everyone looked at me with a confused look. Over my shoulder, I could hear people asking,”Who is this damn kid?” They probably didn’t realize that I speak fluent Hindi and could understand every word they said, but I kept quiet. I could understand how they were feeling. Seeing someone so different would make anyone feel awkward.
After waiting for a minute or two at the front of this ridiculously long line, a rather small and slender man brought over two large metal containers that probably weighed more than him. It amazed me how he managed to carry them all the way from the kitchen almost a quarter mile down the street. He set them down and opened them right away. The hot steam from the boiling hot khichadi shot into my face and fogged up my glasses. I could hear my grandpa laughing in the back.
I asked the man that brought the khichadi how would these two containers could feed fifty people let alone five-hundred. He replied, “Ek chamach buchon ke liye aur do barron ke liye.” (one spoon for children and two for adults.) At this point, I felt absolutely horrible. How could one cup of this rice and vegetable mix feed someone for a day. These people had to be going to sleep hungry their entire lives.
As I put the food into people’s bowls, a five year old boy came to me with no bowl. He looked at me silently saying, “Feed me!” I wondered how he would take the food. The boiling khichadi would give him third degree burns. Knowing that, he still wanted something to eat. The staff told him to get lost, and I almost began to cry. I tried my best to keep the tears in, because the people in line would think I feel sorry for them.
After serving countless people, I could see the bottom of the steel container. This wasn’t a good sign at all. There was no food left for the 100 or so people waiting for their day’s food. The staff saw this, and sent security to tell the people to go away.
I couldn’t stand seeing this. Those people would spend the rest of the day with their stomachs growling with hunger. The thought of going a few hours without food is hard to thinks for me. I couldn’t understand how these people were alive. I decided I could not let this happen in front of my very eyes, so I took out my wallet and donated everything that was in it (4500 rupees, which is about $100).
My grandpa saw that I wasn’t feeling too happy, so we hopped into his car and drove back home. On the way back home, the discomfort of my grandpa’s midget car didn’t bother me one bit knowing that people were a lot more uncomfortable than me to say the least.
That night, I had trouble sleeping. I would toss and turn thinking about the little boys and girls who were crying themselves to sleep from hunger. Before I knew it, it was time to get up. My insomnia left me feeling horrible in the morning.
After breakfast, I asked my mom for an advance on my allowance. She asked with confusion, “What for? You don’t need another iPod.”
I replied, “No. I’m done with that garbage. I’m going to make a difference with this.”
My mom gave me $500 (in rupees) and I carefully put it into my pocket. After a quick lunch, I followed my grandpa out and hopped into his car. I went straight for the overcrowded office of the hospital, and asked if I could donate some money to help buy food for the people.
“Bhagwan ap ka bhala kare” the administrator said, meaning god bless you son, in Hindi.
After that day, I developed almost obsessive compulsive disorder about wasting food. I always finish every little thing on my plate. I felt like I really made a difference, but it wasn’t enough. How much could $600 do? It might have been enough to feed those people for a day, but there are still millions who are starving.
It troubles me how people see the children with bulging bellies on TV and say “Aww that’s so sad,” but they just flip the channel and continue watching their silly reality shows. If more people saw starving children with their own eyes and heard their cries with their own ears, I’m sure they would do something about it.
Hi Samrth Bhandari
Thanks a lot for your excellent social work. Your efforts will certainly encourage more people to do social work .
In INDIA millions of people sleeps almost daily with their empty stomache & million tons of food grain is lying in the food corporation of india godowns awaiting for making garbage. " THATS INDIA" . Being an Indian I am lucky ( ? ) that still I am living in India. Any way your job is excellent , our govt should learn something from you .
Do you know in my country around 150000 children are thalassaemia major & go for regular BLOOD TRANSFUSION in every 2 - 3 weeks. hardy they gets blood to transfuse. most of them dies every year due to lack of blood / iron chelation or infections like hepatitis B & C / HIV etc.
I requesting you to kindly donate BLOOD / MONEY on your birthdays / anniversary or any other occasion to thalassaemia patients & tell this message to your relatives & friends.
for details u may go to " www.thalassaemia.org.cy "
Once again thanks for your valuable efforts.
Pramod Puri ,General Secretary ,
Thalassemia Welfare Society BHILAI
CELL NO. +919826170783.