I let out a low, guttural groan while I stretched my limbs. My steel cot creaked with my movements. ‘Either my cot is old or I have put on weight’ with that thought I looked out of the corner of my eyes. I could see the outline of a prone figure on another steel cot at the other end of the room. The whole body was hidden beneath a bundle of sheets. The stained curtains that hung across the windows did not cover the entire frame of the window and hence did not stop the morning light from seeping into the room, casting an eerie glow, which I found slightly disconcerting.
“Siva, Siva. Get up dude. Make some tea. It is your turn today”, I shouted while I closed my eyes with a satisfactory grin spreading across my face. It was Saturday, which meant that I did not have to haul myself off the bed and hurry to my job. I heard a grunt from Siva in response and then the sound of shuffling sheets. I tried in vain to recreate the remnants of my dream in my mind. I had seen myself as a knight in shining armor riding a white horse. ‘Such a life would have been seriously cool’ I thought. I heard Siva’s footsteps while he dragged himself to the kitchen area.
My roommate Siva and I worked for one of the top Information Technology (IT) companies of India. I had met Siva during the initial training that our company provided to the new employees. We were both in the same training batch. When we both were posted in Bangalore after training, we had settled down in a studio apartment which we could afford between us. To an average Indian youth IT jobs held a promise of a higher standard of living and we were living the dream in that single room apartment while we tried to save each and every paisa that we could.
Finally with a suppressed yawn, I sat up in my bed. I sat staring at the ground and remained for a long time with my eyes riveted on a dent in the mosaic on the floor.
“Do you think we should tell Raghu uncle about the dent?” Siva held two cups of tea and he must have been watching me stare at the dent.
I reached for the tea cup while shaking my head vigorously like a leaf caught in wind “If we tell him we can kiss our security deposit goodbye.”
Raghu uncle was our landlord and we had paid five months of our rent as initial deposit amount to him. Siva nodded in agreement and settled down in front of his laptop, which was on the table that stood between our beds, and powered it on. I watched as the monitor came to life and the all too familiar logo of Windows Vista lit up on the screen. I took a sip of the tea and grimaced. “Dude, your tea is crap. What did you put in it…, acid?” I asked aloud while bracing myself for a torrent of invectives to be showered on me by Siva.
Siva never quite got the hang of making tea and this was a ritual that we followed every time he made tea. I would make a comment on his bad tea and he would call me nasty words. So I smiled when Siva hailed me immediately with quite a few choice words that left my eardrum with a stinging sensation even after his tirade ended.
Siva opened his Facebook account still muttering and cursing me for my apparent lack of gratitude for the tea that he prepared for me. I wanted to tell him that if the concoction that he had prepared for me was to be called ‘Tea’, then actual tea would have to be called something different altogether. But I held my tongue because I did not want to rile him up any further and I also wanted to use Siva’s laptop after a while.
In an attempt to make peace with Siva, I slid to the end of my cot and leaned over nearer to Siva with a smile and remarked, “Dude, you have so many ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ in your Facebook account. That is so cool. I log into my account and I don’t find even a single ‘like’. How do you manage?”
Siva’s lips twitched slightly as though he was going to smile but quickly he forced his grumpy look back onto his face. But I could see that he was pleased. “People like me and so they leave ‘likes’ and ‘comments’. And for your information, most of the ‘comments’ and ‘likes’ are from girls” And as though to prove his point, he opened a recent link that he had shared on his ‘wall’.
There was a photo of a very cute little girl in a hospital bed and her head was bandaged, which made her head look disproportionally bigger. To the right side of the photo, it was written:
“Please share this photo. For every share, facebook will donate $1 to the operation of this little girl. She has a tumor in head and the cost of the operation to remove it too much for her family to bear. Please help”
Siva had shared the photo and he had 23 ‘likes’ for the photo and 7 ‘comments’ and 5 ‘shares’.
I could see that several of the comments were from girls and they appreciated Siva’s philanthropic nature through their comments and some of them had also posted ‘get well soon’ messages for the little girl in the photo.
Before I could ask him whether it was necessary to share such links to get so many ‘likes’, there was a knock on the door of our apartment. I looked at Siva and I looked back at him. “I made tea, so go open the door”, said Siva while jerking his thumb towards the door.
I let out an audible sigh and got up from the bed. I reached the door and opened it. There was a woman outside our door. She wore a sari which could have been pink in color but through years of use and accumulated dirt the color of the sari was only barely discernable. A rag of cloth hung from her neck and a baby, which seemed to be about 2 or 3 years old, rested against the woman’s waist while supported precariously by the rag of the cloth. The baby did not seem to like my presence at the door and angrily hit the woman on the chest with a folded fist. The woman took the palms of the baby in her coarse hands and opened the tiny clenched fists and held it open before me.
It dawned upon me that the woman was out begging for alms and the baby was her prop for the act. I called out to Siva to join me. Siva came over to the door and immediately he began gesturing the woman to leave by waving his hand frantically.
The woman was persistent and in spite of our repeated threatening gestures, she kept saying, “Sir, sir, hasivagide… pappa hasivagide…” We could understand from the little Kannada that we knew that she was saying that she was hungry and her baby was hungry. But we pretended not to understand her. She started touching her stomach and then she took the baby out of the rag that held it against her waist, turned the baby towards us and began patting the baby’s stomach with her right hand while she held it aloft with her left hand. The baby, jolted by all the movement, registered its protest at being handled in such a manner by letting out a shrill wail.
I lost my temper at the woman and I brandished my mobile and said, “Police, police” and I acted as though I was punching numbers into my mobile. She stopped her acting and returned the baby to its original position and started walking away. We stood by the door to make sure that she left our floor for good. While the woman was walking away, the baby poked its head out of the rag and turned its head towards us and kept looking at us. When the woman and the baby were out of sight, Siva and I closed our door and returned to the laptop.
“Man, these beggars… they are persistent” I remarked.
Siva nodded his head “I am sure she stole that baby from somewhere and is taking it around to feed on the sympathy of people”
“Yeah and the smell from her… Yuck, I was thinking of skipping out on my shower today, but now I will have to shower twice” I shuddered at the thought of the dirt that was on the woman’s sari.
“Dude, leave all that… Let us talk about something interesting. See the number of ‘likes’ on the photo that I shared has gone up” Siva was pointing at his laptop screen. He was right. The number of ‘likes’ for the photo of the girl with brain tumor, was now 25.
“Siva, I am going for a shower now. When I come back I am also going to share the photo on my ‘wall’. I don’t believe that the girl is going to get $1 if I share. I mean, how can facebook track all the shares? Still if it can help me impress the girls in my friends’ list... What do we lose, huh?” I said while glancing at the photo.
“You are learning the tricks of the trade, man” Siva said with a low chuckle.
I smiled while looking at the little girl with the bandaged head in the photo. For some reason the face of the beggar woman and the baby in her bundle flitted through my mind. My smile faltered, but I immediately got rid of the image with a quick shake of my head while I made my way to the bathroom.