Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ignoring Rule One

As a first general rule, I ignore children. Well, at least the children that see my white face behind my car window and immediately expect I want to give them money. The "tap, tap, tap" with a sad or hungry looking face is one of the first thing that shocks you about this country and is, invariably, one of the first things to which you become desensitized. 

As a second general rule, when I ignore the first rule and for some reason want to take a photograph of the sad or hungry looking child, I will give them money. Mind you, I don't ignore the first general rule often. On Sunday, while playing with my new camera from the back seat of the car, I decided to break that first rule.

There's a fine line between the children that want their picture taken for money and the children that want their picture taken so they can see their image on the screen. This kid, obviously fell in the former category. As soon as you take a picture like this, your immediate reaction is guilt. It feels like you're exploiting or encouraging the behavior. The more I think about it, I would never stick a camera in the face of a beggar on the streets of Chicago so it's probably more exploitative than I care to admit. As soon as a street child sees that big DSLR in a car, much less pointed at her, she immediately thinks money. And she's right. If I'm going to take advantage of her situation, the least I could do is pay for the situation.

In my head, I had decided that the photograph was "worth" 10 rupees. I have no idea if this is comically high or comically low, and I can't explain how I arrived at that figure; it just seemed "right". Unfortunately, after taking this picture I realized I didn't have any small bills handy. I immediately turned to Lindsay, but all she had was a fifty. In my head, that seemed inappropriately high. I fumbled some more into my pockets to make sure I didn't have a small bill. I didn't. I then, starting to panic a bit, asked my trusty driver Kailash if he had any small bills. He didn't have a ten but did have a five. I rolled the window down a bit and handed the girl the five, feeling guilty that I hadn't give enough. I then asked Lindsay if she had any coins. Since the girl saw us fumbling, she knew she had a better chance getting more money from us than moving to the next car. Lindsay found three 2-rupee coins, so I rolled the window back down a crack and gave the girl the additional money. Eleven rupees seemed more than fair. Unfortunately, by this time, the stoplight had turned back to red, which just meant that she'd keep us company for another couple minutes.

Stoplights can be annoying long. This type of situation only amplifies the length of time that red light seems to stay red. After what seemed like a good eight minutes, the light turned green and we were finally on our way. In total, I felt guilty that about acting like a tourist. I felt guilty for exploiting a street child for the benefit of a photograph, and I felt guilty that I had to have my driver fund that endeavor. At the next stoplight, I ended up giving Kailash the fifty note to pay him back for the five he had given me; a pretty good investment on his part, in the end, he may have been the real winner.


  1. A very sad sight on our roads.I sometimes give out food and to see 3,4 kids pounce on it all at once,is heart breaking.

  2. I've never tried the food route but can imagine that might be the reaction. In general, I try to be "choosey"; one I remember was a young boy that was sitting on the side of the road near the exit to Khan Market that was caring for an infant. He was either a tremendous actor or really cared for the infant. I decided he really cared for the infant....