This incident happened a few days ago. I was walking towards the Ramakrishna Ashram in Mysore and was waiting at a streetlight to cross the road. Being a 4-way junction, the wait seemed to be a long one. It was then that I noticed a middle-aged woman selling bananas by the street corner. Working with street vendors for a few years now, I had learnt that life was never easy for them. From meager profits, to haggling customers to corrupt civic and police officials – they had to deal with them all on an everyday basis. My intelligent guess was that this woman would possibly earn not more than Rs 40-50 as profits on a good day. Validating my thoughts, I found one customer haggling as though his entire future depended on it. And all this for an extra banana that he thought was his rightful due. Around the same time, I found a 4-5 year old girl standing and sobbing by the way side. She seemed to be hardly noticed by either the tens of pedestrians or the innumerable vehicles driving by. On hearing her sobs, this street vendor spontaneously reached out to her to inquire if she was lost and crying for her mother. The little girl pointed to the construction across the street and mentioned that her mother worked there. Her sobbing was due to her unbearable hunger and that her mother had nothing to give her. Without batting an eyelid, I found this women street-vendor tear out a couple of bananas and thrust them into the child’s hands. And then quietly returned back to her business…Not being able to contain myself, I asked her about what she had done…In her own characteristic way, she simply said that here was a poor hungry soul in need of help and she just did it. That was it – neither complex theories of development nor any high spiritual explanation. Just a simple humane response from one human being to another.
Finding her vending so close to the Ramakrishna Ashram, I enquired whether she had heard of either Sri Ramakrishna or Swami Vivekananda. While both these names meant nothing to her, here she was living their philosophy in the only way she understood it. Sri Ramakrishna’s exhortation of ‘Shiva Jnane, Jeeva Seva’ (Knowledge of God through the service of man) to his disciples came effortlessly to her. Swami Vivekananda had proclaimed ‘Daridra narayano bhava’ (the poor are my gods) and here was this poor woman worshiping the only god she knew. It is no exaggeration to say that the poor are the ones who understand poverty and hunger the best. While the rest of us are more adept at intellectualizing and spending endless hours in debating poverty and hunger, here was this noble soul living the message of Swami Vivekananda without having heard of him even. This was truly Swami Vivekananda and his message in action.