The first thing you will notice about this article is that, though the title talks about ‘images’, I haven’t shared any.
The reason? I never had the images.
Then where did I see them? The first one while I was driving back home from a friend’s place on a hot and sultry Sunday evening a few years ago, and the other two in a couple of news broadcasts on the popular TV news channels BBC and CNN.
What was so special about them? The scenes have been etched in my memory like hard images. Perhaps it was my general mood today that brought these memories out.
The first one is of a small kid I came across selling balloons at a traffic junction. He was about 6-7 years old, and that’s about where his childhood seemed to end. Everything beyond that was in shambles – his clothes, his facial expressions, and more importantly, his future. In an age when he should have played merrily with those balloons, he was selling them. Probably he had had to roam around in the scorching sun selling them all day, and it was telling on his body language. He was tired, perhaps severely hungry too, but it was just about 8pm so there was going to be no respite for another couple of hours at least. When he knocked on our car window, I could see his face bordered with desperation. I remember purchasing a few balloons from him that day, rather, I couldn’t help not to. Over the years, I’ve seen his siblings sell balloons and flowers on that traffic junction. Since they are nomads they don’t stick to one place and move all over the city. Sometimes I still see that kid on that junction. He has grown up by a few years and his face has now matured, or lets say, has turned stony and impenetrable. He doesn’t sell balloons anymore, well, how could he? He has given away the colors of his childhood, bit by bit, with every balloon he has sold.
The second one is of a young Chinese teen and his old mother. BBC was running a news story on how the dreaded AIDS disease was spreading its wings in the remote Chinese provinces. It showed the example of a young man in his early teens who had gone to a local blood donation camp and had unfortunately contracted the disease there. His condition, the doctors said, wasn’t very good and they didn’t give him much chances of surviving beyond a few months. Apparently, his poor family knew about his condition and had resigned to his fate. He was lying there on the makeshift bed outside his thatched-roof house with his head on his old mother’s lap. Most people (me included) will identify sleeping with their heads on their mother’s laps with happier childhood times. The theme here, though, was much too sombre. Their faces told their story. His mother’s face especially, was stone cold. She wasn’t crying. She wasn’t showing the disappointment or shock that you would associate with a woman who was about to loose her beloved son forever. She just stared at the camera coldly. Probably she hadn’t come to terms with this tragedy mentally. The emotion in that shot was just too much to forget.
The third one is from the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York City in the USA. There was despair and gloom everywhere after the airplanes struck the World Trade Center twin towers and they collapsed ending the lives of thousands. As rescue workers steadily searched through the rubble, it took a few days for the authorities to piece together the list of the dead, the injured and the missing. That was quite understandable considering the scale of the devastation. For the common man, though, those were testing times. I remember CNN running a story on the devastation and the rescue efforts. The video showed a woman standing a few meters from Ground Zero, wearing a big placard on her front and back, which read – “Have you seen him?” – along with a picture of a man’s face. Presumably the man was her close relative or friend, probably even her husband, and was missing since the day of the disaster. I’ve always thought that it is better to hear the news of someone’s death rather than the news of that person being missing. Her face was heart-rending. I remember watching the same woman in other news reports till many days after the incident, still standing in front of the rubble with the placards on her. What was more depressing is that more and more people started gathering in NYC searching desperately for their missing loved ones. The scenes were almost reminiscent of the – “Wanted a decent job” – placards that people used wear during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and were just as moving.
Even today, tears well up in my eyes whenever I think of these images. I’m sure other people would have seen or experienced equally tragic scenes in their lives, and would have had an equally tough time managing those memories. People who have been in or have seen the horrors of war from close quarters might probably agree with me. I hope I can do my bit to alleviate people from their misery if and when I come across such incidences in the future, but more than that I hope I don’t come across any more such events in the first place!