Friday, June 19, 2009

Sanju is back

Do you ever wonder who the street people are, especially the ones who look like they haven't had a bath or a decent meal in years? Or do you just walk by them, trying not to look because they stare at you with the most pitiful expression in their eyes, begging for something from you? They're just humans, with their own stories, and sometimes have fascinating personalities and life dramas, and a host of strengths and weaknesses. Just like the rest of us.

Often, it is difficult to understand where they came from or how they got to be in their situation. Many are mentally challenged, meaning that talking with them to find out their story is even more difficult.

Regardless, some display a warmth, an innocence, and a genuineness that is sometimes rarely seen in our fellow humans, who are busy with earning money, taking care of the house, and trying to climb their respect "corporate ladders."

Maybe by having absolutely nothing to their name except for the clothes on their back, the odds and ends packed away in the ever-present plastic bag ("plastic cover" in India) that they carry, and the two or three rupees in their possession makes them so open, so free of judgment, so carefree, that getting to know them forces us to look inside our own selves and reevaluate our own lives.

Sanju in 2007

Sanju, an endless wanderer, is such a street person. We met her in 2007 when she arrived at our area on the street. She immediately became everyone's favorite because of her smile, her genuine warmth, and her absolute inability to pester anyone for money. She even turned down coins when she felt that she already had enough for her day's meals.

Sanju talked to the street kids about her "computer brain," and they laughed when she laughed. At times she spewed out phrases in such perfect English ("It is raining!" instead of "Rain coming!") that we wondered where she came from and what her experiences have been along the way.

Then after a few months, she left suddenly and without warning, and without saying anything to the new friends she made. We didn't see her for two full years.

Recently, Sanju returned and seemed the same as before, maybe a little more melancholy. Sanju told us that she went far away, to stay with the Tibetan nuns who cut her hair and gave her food.

Sanju, back at Sayyaji Rao in 2009

Older by two years, Sanju seems a bit less happy and carefree, and is a little worried about her eyesight. We took her to the eye clinic, and they told her to come back the following Wednesday for cataract surgery, but she was too afraid to go. Hopefully, she'll be ready one day.

And we asked her, "Sanju, do you have enough money for food today?" "Oh, yes!" she responds in English, and shows us her seven coins and a ten-rupee note. We offer her another ten-rupee note but she said "beda" in the local language (meaning "I don't want it"), and our other street women friends -- who all knew her two years ago -- tell her to take it so she can buy more food later. But she refuses. Funny Sanju. We do love her complete honesty and transparency, hiding nothing.