Friday, January 7, 2011

Angela - Bharati Mukherjee

Bharati Mukherjee - July 27, 1940 –

My fortunate life has given me the opportunity to travel outside of this comfortable culture…this comfortable country, to discover the lives of people I will call the “others”. I’ve seen gypsy children in Russia, Romania and Italy. Legless beggars on wheeled platforms begging for food in the streets of Ireland and teenaged prostitutes in Eastern Europe. They are small slice of the “others” that remain bouncing around in my memory jarring me into facing my cushy life and recognizing that my petty problems are…just that.

Now that I have a son, I am hyper conscious of his little world. He lives in a warm house, with warm clothes, a soft bed… is provided with the best of food, has a set of loving parents and extended family. When he cries, he is consoled. When his diaper is wet or dirty, it is immediately removed and replaced with a clean one.

I have to work hard not to think of children that live in the mud, that are abused daily and go to sleep hungry. Children that look at their parents with a smile and see a frown returned.

At times, recently, I have been reflecting back to a train station in Rome.

The group of gypsies mark my father and I at about 20 feet.

Uh-oh… I’ve had run-ins with gypsies in Russia and Romania.

I mumble to my father to keep his guard up. We really don’t have an alternative path and we have to keep moving forward out of the station.

This of course was the reason why the group positioned themselves there.

Wonderful choke-point.

As we approach the group of 5 women, we clutch our packs close to our bodies and notice a swaddled baby being tossed through the air towards us.

Perplexing and fascinating as this is not a sight one encounters too often.

The mind is so quick to process this vision and to recognize that yes, in fact, there is a baby flying towards us and if we do not lift our arms to catch it, the little one will certainly fall onto the street.

Without consciously considering our actions, our arms lift away from our packs in an effort to catch the baby.

The group of thieves, having honed this maneuver to perfection, are able to calculate the speed at which we are approaching, knowing just the right time to throw the baby so that even if we do not reach out to catch the infant, their forward progression measured against ours, would allow them to catch the baby at about knee level.

But they knew!… that we would strain to catch the baby, raising our arms away from our packs and pockets, their forward progression allowing them to come against us in a “hug” with their hands quickly finding our pockets and making away with the contents while shouting and spitting.


The baby came to rest in the “hug” created by one of the women and my father. His pockets were fortunately zipped shut.

I joined the scuffle which ended in the blink of an eye as the women scurried off with their little swaddled baby “bait”.

I placed the baby at about 2 months old. He probably had about another 8 months in his position. That is of course if he was caught after every toss. What was the success rate of a successful toss and catch?

It’s not that hard to imagine that his little life couldn’t have lasted into its first year.

My son has once again forced me to acknowledge that I, we, are so fortunate.


“Angela” was/is an incredible story. Strong with raw detail and jarring in the images it paints.

But where does good intention butt up against exploitation? Love of a person or pity?

When can the good intentions of one, driven by love, actually do harm?

My son was born to us…here in America and is being held in my wife’s soft warm arms. Someplace in Asia, another “Angela” is pulling herself out of a leech infested mud pit…and in Rome a swaddled baby is flying through the air not knowing if this moment of weightlessness will be his final earthly sensation.

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