After finishing a solo trek in Tada Falls last February, I saw physically-disabled man begging for change at a local tea stop. Govind couldn’t have been older than 45 years. He looked disheveled and desperate. The men at the tea shop seemed to either ignore him or make impolite gestures.
I offered to buy him a cup of tea and struck up a conversation with him. Govind was reluctant to say much at first but after a while, we sat down on the bench to talk. It wasn’t an act of kindness. I had been walking alone all day. The weather was hot and humid. I was feeling a little miserable. And we know what misery loves.
When he found out that I was born and bred in Chennai, his body language immediately changed. He got up, balanced himself against a wooden pole, and sized me up with a smile. He asked me the area I was from, and when he heard it – his eyes started to brim with tears at once.
Govind, in-between muffled sighs, told me about how he too lived near the same area with his family many years ago. Financial ruin and bad luck had led him to moving back penniless to his hometown. At this point, he looked utterly dejected. Tears were dancing down his cheek as he called out to benevolent forces in the skies. Before I could say anything, he started walking away – bemoaning his situation.
I didn’t just feel like an insensitive idiot for leading him into the conversation. I felt a little broken too. And so I left and walked towards a quarry. These things get to me. Not enough to make a difference in anyone’s life, mind you. Just enough to get teary-eyed, listen to music and throw pebbles into a water body, reciting wordless poetry to self.
As the summer wind dry-humped my hair, I realized that people like me can be terrible. We go around imposing our middle-class urban guilt on the marginalized. We want to create a tangible and positive difference in their lives as long it makes us feel good about ours. We need material to validate our own identities. In return – we have these dim-witted questions about hardships to offer and maybe a few rupees to spare.
I felt bad about it. From thereon I wanted to be less ideological about social issues given how much time and effort I can spend on influencing them.
The next morning I went to the same tea shop. Govind wasn’t there. So I asked around for him. The tea master grinned at me before bursting my bubble.
It so turned out that Govind had a severe drinking problem. He has had one for decades. He had lost his job and spent all his savings the first few years he was in Chennai. He had to go back empty-handed to a disappointed wife and angry kids. Since then he has been working as a watchman so that his family doesn’t kick him out.
He has been begging for change at bus stands and tea shops just to afford snacks to go along with the alcohol. It’s why the locals get annoyed whenever he asks them for money.
If there was any moral to this story, it’s this – shut up and don’t think so much.
The photographs featured were taken at the Ubablamadugu waterfalls (Tada Falls) – near the Tamil Nadu-Andhra Pradesh border. It isn’t an impressive trail for wildlife given how dry and parched the area is for most of the year. Only Bonnet Macaques and Grey Wagtails can be commonly found. You can get a lot of trekking done though. But Tada Falls is also one of the most polluted eco-tourist spots, so be advised to trek uphill during a post-monsoon afternoon and head back to the front gate by around 5:30 PM. And see if you can find the spot below!