Berlin: Encounter with a street artist

I haven’t been open about this aspect of my life and this has been restricted mainly to my personal conversations with people who know me and are close to me. I have been in Europe now for around 6 years and people have asked me a lot of questions. If only I knew the answer, I am still figuring that out.

But here’s a story that might highlight the point I am trying to understand and express. This revolves around the words: dignity, humanity, charity, altruism, religion, faith. The three main points I want to communicate in this story are:

  1. I have seen two kinds of people doing charity. One who do it, but do it anonymously without showing it off or being visible. Other do it in a more visible way. Which one is the right way or the wrong way is not important here. We can’t judge, you choose what suits you best.
  2. Every human being has dignity. For the sake of simplicity, “Dignity is our inherent value and worth as human beings; everyone is born with it.”
  3. Every human being is capable of empathy.

It makes me very uncomfortable whenever I see someone trying to look down upon someone. So when I hear people talking about homeless people in the same way, I get irritated. But now I try not to react and care less.


Recently I visited Berlin in the quest of finding some answers and I had a random encounter. I was walking down the street alone and I heard someone playing the flute. I love the sound of flute so I slowed down to hear instead of walking away. Coincidentally, the guy was playing just outside an Indian restaurant. People walked past him and nobody was paying attention to him. When he finished playing, I walked up to him and said, “That was really nice. I stopped just to listen to you. I love the sound” He had a big smile on his face and said, “Are you from India?” I hoped the next words to be something stereotypical like I do Yoga Tantra too, or whatever version of India, Berlin is smoking. But thankfully, he said: “My guru who taught me flute was from India. Where in India are you from? Are you from Kolkata?” I said, “No. But close from Kolkata. Actually that’s the reference point I use to tell people here where I am from. I am from a city near to Kolkata. When I say near, I mean just 500 kilometres.”

Selfie - Tibetan Flute Performance by Street Artist, Berlin
Tibetan Flute Performance by Street Artist – He says Hello!

For the record, I didn’t think he was a homeless person, I just thought he was a street performer. So after our friendly chat, I asked him if he could play again and let me record. He happily obliged and put up a show for me. I got a solo performance, and he got a dedicated solo audience. Some people smiled as they saw me watching and listening to him as they walked past. He played a Tibetan Mantra that he loved, for me.

After the performance we talked a little more about him, his family, how he got into this whole music thing. He also knew how to play Tabla, and complained that he is unable to get the real deal here anymore. I said, well you can ask someone going to India to bring it for you. I asked to take a picture with him, and we had this photo together. After which he asked me, “Do you have one or two euros for me?” I handed him a few coins which I had in my pocket and we said goodbye.


So I was having this discussion last year with a student on a topic around homeless people. The topic was centred on, “Giving a Bag full of essentials to homeless people?” And I had a question for them: “Would you give a homeless person a mobile phone, if he/she asks for one?” My discussed also had follow up questions: “Why do you need a phone? Which phone do you have?” But the main point I was trying to communicate was, keeping in touch with family, friends or loved ones is an inherently human need. We all have that. So instead of food or medicine, if a homeless person asks for a mobile phone, many of us would respond like this student did. “Mobile phone is not a need, its luxury” Oh well. I will let the #CommIsAid people defend that.

I wanted to use this example of an alcohol smelling street artist to try and understand the points above. He could very well be mistaken as a homeless person, at least judging by the looks of people passing by and avoiding him. You could drop the coins, hand over your change and walk away. You could also stop by, talk, and listen. Or just, ask for their name and try to spend some time. Time and Attention are probably the only two valuable things we have. Money is probably something we created to make things easy or difficult or maintain order.

The other question I ask around people who feel sad about homeless or poor people is:

“Have you ever tried to talk to one? Or sit with one and chat, have tea or eat/share food with them?”

That’s where things get a little uncomfortable and people walk away.

The point is very simple, the ability to see the humanity in people is inherently human as well, I guess the word is empathy. When you make eye contact with a passer-by, you acknowledge the person’s existence. When you talk to the person beyond politeness and courtesy, you make a personal connection, which is an inherent human need as well.

These people have a name, a story, a family, their own life and circumstances. Just like you.

So my final question would be, “What’s the difference between you and a homeless person?” And once you have answered the What, dig into to the Why and keep looking. Don’t tell me, figure it out for yourself.

And then the next thing I need to work on is Dignity<->Money connection. But for now, here’s the flute performance video.

 

“Little children, let us love not in word and speech, but in action and truth.”

Advertisements

PowerCutsIN: A video interview I did in Karcha Village

(originally posted on the PowerCutsIN Blog)

September 16, 2011: This is the house of Mr. Sukhdev from Karcha Village, Banda, Uttar Pradesh where I had a chance  to visit during one of my work visits.

In this report we hear Sukhdev highlight the following key points: [link to report]

  1. When the transformer at their village burns out and needs repairing, unless they pool in money to pay to the district electricity department, they do not get a replacement. Which technically seems to be a bribe.
  2. The load on these transformers is high since many people use wire tap to the source lines to draw electricity to their homes even without a connection, which adds extra load on the transformer beyond its capacity due to which it fires and goes bad.
  3. They have electricity for around 10 hours mostly only during the nights when the transformers are working.
  4. Due to electricity, his kids can study during the dark for a couple of hours.
  5. Using fans, when there is power helps them to get rid of mosquitoes & diseases caused by them during summers.
  6. When there is no electricity during the night its scary because of threat of theft in the village.

You can view the video here with English subtitles below: [YouTube link]

Does this irk you?

I have been trying to recollect and blog things I have experienced and witnessed during my extensive travel throughout India. Recently(December 30, 2010) during one of my travel “dramas” where I took the wrong direction train, I witnessed something really weird and discomforting, to say the least. When the train was standing at this station, I saw this married couple get into the train and stand at the doorside for a moment. And suddenly the man started cursing the lady. Curses of the most ugly kind one can imagine and which, as I would put, can make your ears bleed out of shame. It was obvious from the way they two were dressed and came together, they were married. However, after the “cursing” episode, I was in doubt.

Why? Because the lady didnt utter a word in response to this man insulting in public among a lot of people.

Usually, the kind of women I stay around or work with would at least utter something back and some would just give him a stfu. But noone would just sit there and be insulted. So that left me with a lot of “Why’s” because hearing all those words outraged me.

I usually carry my camera around so I had thought of clicking his picture. I asked him, “Sir! Can I click a picture of you?” And he gave me a strange shocked look, but agreed (in a non-verbal way), so I clicked his picture. I guess as an effect of this action, he calmed down a bit and went out of the train to get some fresh air. I quickly asked the lady who this man was and how was he related to her? She told me, it was her husband. The husband was scolding her because he had asked her to stay at a certain “spot” until he went to buy the tickets and instructed her to not move. And as the train arrived, she might have just moved a little away from the spot. And hence, the husband bombarded her with insults in public.

It was a silly reason in my opinion. I told the lady, the village women I work with would have thrashed and beaten up such a man by now. She giggled and the husband returned.

Other co-passengers started telling the husband that “Its OK, and its not a big deal. Everyone makes mistakes etc and he shouldn’t be cursing bad words in public to her wife..” which was nice, but the husband still tried to make a point.

Anyways, the important point is it left me with a lot of questions:

  • What could be the reason for the lady to not voice back? Why the silence?
  • What could be the reason of her giggling when I go and question her being silent? I have met rural women who “command” the house & are confident however this gave me a different picture.
  • What would you have done in such a situation?
  • And finally, does the look of this man’s face irk you? (apologies for not posting the uncut picture, not sure if the anger on his face his visible)

TrainDelayHusbandPicture_129814943493652_2