Sheela stood perplexed. It was as if someone had slapped her…
Sheela was a software professional working in Pune, India. She was a God fearing person who truly believed that she was lucky to have everything in the world – a loving family, good career and a high paying job. She was thankful for this fortune and always looked out for an opportunity to help the underprivileged, especially children.
She always had some ready change for kids at the signals. She used to keep biscuit packets in the car and give it away to any child she found begging. She chose to celebrate her birthdays by cooking a small meal and making numerous food packets. She would then distribute the food packets to the people sitting outside the temple when she went to pay homage to God.
But this article in “India Today” totally left her dazed. The article talked at length about how gangs of people exploit street children and force them to beg at the signals. Most of the proceeds collected by these children are seized and they are given a piddly amount for themselves. At times, children as young as 15 days old are “rented” out as “softer targets” to accompany a woman to beg; this ensured that onlookers shell out money more easily out of pity. Sometimes, children were stolen from well to do families and made a victim to this trade.
It was as if someone had slapped Sheela. All this while Sheela used to derive utter satisfaction and peace when she was helping the children. She vowed that she would no longer abet begging. She stopped giving away food. Her heart would ache seeing the children beg and she not even doing a small bit from her end.
One day, she was on her way home after work. Her mom had asked her to pick up lemons for the “pav bhaji” tonight. She stopped right outside her building on spotting a pull up cart full of lemons and sweet corn. The cart owner was a small boy around 9 years of age. There was a spark in his eye and a smile on his face. After paying for the lemons, she got on to a conversation with him. She found out that the boy was not really the cart owner but he ran the stall on behalf of his neighbour who paid him 300 rupees a month for the errand. The boy ran the cart from 5:30 pm in the evening till 9:30 pm in the night. During the day he attended school. Sheela’s heart melted away. Here was a boy who at such a juvenile age understood some of the hard facts of life – studies will take him a long way and hard work pays! She wanted to encourage the boy and give him accolades for his work. She was not sure how. Over- paying for the lemons would be like giving away alms. She thought of something!
From that day onwards, Sheela was seen at the cart every evening on her way home. Either she was buying lemons or eating sweet-corn. Sometimes, she would drag a colleague to the cart for a corn. The huge stock of lemons that she used to collect, were distributed to the neighbours. At times she used to make lemon juice and take it to work and give it to her colleagues.
She was soon known as the Lady with the “lemon” to her neighbours and colleagues.