“Finish your vegetables! There are children in India who are starving!”
I grew up hearing my parents say these words over and over. Being a logical girl, I often asked myself, “How will finishing my vegetables help starving children in India?” Then, I visited my extended family in India ... and discovered the answer to my question. It was a summer day and my mother — an avid shopper when it comes to Indian dresses — told me I HAD to go shopping with her, to find some “nice traditional outfits.”
I didn’t want to go: The day was scorching hot, and the air was filled with zillions of blood-thirsty mosquitoes. But my mother pulled rank and dragged me off in our air-conditioned car to the outdoor bazaar.
Outside the market I saw something which struck at my heart: a woman with just one leg, carrying a baby. For a dress, she wore a single piece of ragged, dirty cloth. The stench of her garment had attracted a cloud of flies. She was begging for money.
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As the woman limped up to me, I noticed her dirt-colored skin, her emaciated body, and most of all, her haunted eyes, like those of an animal about to be butchered. Her malnourished baby was crying.
She said, “Didi mujhe paisa dede.” “Sister, give me money.”
Overcome with pity, I asked my mother if I could give the beggar some money. She nodded and handed me a few rupees — a few pennies in American currency.
A few minutes later, I saw another beggar, this one a man with a missing arm. I gave him a few rupees as well. Soon, poor people wearing dirty rags crowded around me, all with their hands outstretched. I was overwhelmed. I knew I couldn’t possibly help them all.
When I returned home, I remembered what my parents had told me when I was younger. And I finally understood! When my parents told me to eat my vegetables, they weren’t suggesting that would literally save India’s starving children.
They were telling me not to take the things that I have for granted — because many would give anything to have the kind of life I lead.
After seeing the poor people in India begging for pocket change or scraps of food, my perspective on life changed. For those people, day-to-day life was a devastating ordeal.
I realized, instead of complaining because there was nothing to watch on TV, or because I couldn’t find matching jewelry, I should be grateful for what I have, and try to help others.
I admit, there are still times when I complain about my life. However, every time I do, I remember the sad eyes of the beggars in India. Before going to India, I believed in having things my way. Now, I believe in being grateful for what I have.
Saloni Jain is a State College Area High School student. Her essay will air on WPSU on Thursday.