Poverty hits hardest in winter
In every part of Shillong there are hawkers sitting in the open until late night trying to sell their vegetables, fruits, fish and sometimes second-hand clothes. These days, when the mercury has dipped by several degrees, being out in the open is bone-chilling but the economic needs of the family push people to brave the cold. Try and pick up a conversation with these hawkers and we get to know how difficult life is for many of our fellow citizens. With two or more kids studying, it is no longer possible for only one earning member to support the family.
The SJ team met with a vegetable vendor sitting on the footpath at Nongmensong. She said her husband is a taxi driver and they have three school-going children. The money he alone earns is too meagre to meet the needs of the family. So the lady decided to sell vegetables to earn some extra income for the family.
When asked who is looking after the children’s studies, since both she and her husband are working, she replied that the eldest daughter, who is 14 years, is supervising the studies of her younger siblings, an 11-year-old boy and six-year-old girl.
The elder one has also learnt to cook and wash, leaving very little time for her to study.
During the lockdown due to COVID-19, when schools had announced online classes, the 14-year-old could not afford a smartphone. She went to a friend’s house and would listen in while the teacher explained the lessons. Thankfully, her friend’s parents are very considerate. This lady vegetable vendor wondered if there was a way that the government could help such students to get a smartphone.
“I wish even banks could finance us so we can buy a smartphone for the children and they could then collect the instalments from us on a daily basis. Why can’t someone think on our behalf? We are not asking anything for free but we can do with easy repayment to the banks.” Since we were asking her questions she thought we were surveyors from the bank who were coming to assess their needs.
These same people also need something warm to wear and to cover themselves with in this dreadfully cold weather. If anyone can form a band of do-gooders who can help with blankets or warm clothes the hawkers say it would be a great help.
‘Best of both worlds’
The older generation has had their fair share of bragging rights over generation-Z, who were born into this world at a time when access to technology was easy; everything is now available at the click of the mouse or touch of a button.
This is the era of the internet. The internet plays an irreplaceable part in the lives of most of us, especially the zoomers. You can make friends across oceans, broadcast to a wider range of audience, showcase your talent, and even earn a living! Isn’t that wonderful? But of course, there are cons. Not for us to brood about for this week.
Now, what do they (generation X) really brag about? The SJ team had a whale of a time overhearing a conversation as old-timers boasted about their deal of adventures and greater connect with nature, while agonising on the way life had turned out for the younger generation including millennials. Sharing one of the experiences, they pointed out how back in the days children in groups built a hut out of hay and wood (a customary activity during Makar Sankranti) and lived in it overnight and then burned it in the morning. A practice they relished back then and even during the narration. However, a millennial explained how ‘his generation’, so he called, had the best of both worlds. “I have done that for quite a number of times in my childhood. I was also introduced to gadgets and technology when I needed it. I had the best of both worlds,” he bragged.
A tapered city footpath
There are times when even having a petite figure doesn’t help, especially when you are walking on select footpaths in Shillong. A fine example would be the footpath that starts from Lord Mahavira Park till the Rilbong Point. What’s odd is that in the 5-minute walk, one can sense the presence of the Grim Reaper himself. You heard that right! Grim Reaper! Let’s keep the metaphor aside for now and cut to the chase. The aforesaid footpath is so narrow that two healthy people can barely walk alongside each other. The only respite is for pedestrians to set foot on the road. Well, that is the exact thing the SJ team has been observing for months. People who walk hastily towards their destination using the footpath are often coerced into walking on the road, for they cannot pass the one walking on the footpath due to the narrow walking space. This has gone on for several years now much to the commuters’ despondency, it is likely to keep going on. But God forbid, if there is any tragedy, then who will be held liable? The person walking on the road, the one inside the vehicle or the competent authorities for failing to widen, even by a foot or two, the footpath?