Heartbreaking Delhi Hawkers

If you’ve ever been to a large Indian city you’ll be familiar with the phenomenon of street hawkers who appear like flies and more often than not are treated as such.

One lunch time Rinpoche was waiting for his car on what used to be known as Connought Place but is now Rajiv Chowk, and, inevitably, became surrounded by a swarm of hawkers. Two small, brown men were particularly fervent, one waving a selection of rather poorly printed postcards, the other a kind of wooden pipe, or some such. They were poor and simple and desperate, and God only knows how many kids and dependents they had at home.

Canny tourists and Delhi natives always shoo hawkers away, but Rinpoche didn’t. He had time as the car hadn’t yet arrived, so he listened patiently to their sales pitches (although I’m not sure he understood every word). Before long their words dried up and they resorted to urgent interjections of what sounded like “Buy! Buy! Buy!” as they pleaded with their eyes.

“They break my heart,” said Rinpoche, smiling very sweetly. He signalled to Sonam Chöpal, who pulled out a wallet and bought some postcards. The wooden pipe sellar looked a little downcast, but he needn’t have been because Sonam Chöpal also paid for one of his pipes. Rinpoche then accepted the postcards from the hawker on this right and immediately presented them to the pipe sellar on his left, from whom he accepted the wooden pipe, which he handed the postcard sellar.

The men looked extremely confused, especially when we started  laughing. But then Rinpoche’s car pulled up and we piled in, our minds already moving away from the street hawkers, who had themselves turned their attentions to a foreign looking couple as they quit their taxi.

I suddenly saw my own mind switch from sympathy and amusement into self-preservation mode, and as that happened those poor men were no longer human beings like me, but had regained their former shape as swattable fly-like nuisances. Why is it so easy to close ourselves off from the sufferings of others?

5 thoughts on “Heartbreaking Delhi Hawkers

  1. I know. me too!
    The other day I posted on fb that I missed guru then everyone tried to comfort me… someone told me that he is coming to hk next month.. but that’s not the point at all..

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