The Destitute Who Are Rich

Writer Jose Kavi chronicles the inspiring work of the Sisters of the Destitute in the Winter edition of ONE.

Writer Jose Kavi chronicles the inspiring work of the Sisters of the Destitute in the Winter edition of ONE. Here, he describes one surprising aspect of the people they serve: their joy.

The visit to Nat Gali (Dancers’ Lane) last fall was like a scene out of the movie “Slumdog Millionaire.”

The hamlet is part of Deendayalpuri, a resettlement enclave with more than 8,000 families, just 10 miles east of the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border. What strike a visitor first are children and flies swarming the place.

A child slept peacefully on a stringed cot outside a hut that sits the edge of a narrow lane with sewage water running on the sides. Flies buzzing around did not bother the baby, nor did the sniffing dogs. His mother was busy ticking lice with a group of women at one end of the lane while its father chatted with a bunch of men at the other end.

Some other women in tattered saris and heads covered cooked on an earthen oven using dried cowdung cakes as fodder outside their tiny huts. Men played cards or watched games on cellphones in street corners.

It presented a perfect picture of the life that India’s poor are destined to live.

Despite its proximity to the national capital, no vestige of city life has touched the people, who eke out a living from a plethora of activities: dancing at weddings and other functions, begging at places of worship and prostitution.

The enclave burst into shouts as soon as John Mathew, the photographer, Joshy Mon, a friend, and I entered the enclave with Sister Sumitha Puthenchakkalackal, a member of the Sisters of Destitute congregation. The nuns have been working in the area for more than 15 years.

As soon as John Mathew took out his camera, children crowded around him and took over the direction. They insisted he take pictures of their friends and siblings. They needed no prompting to pose for photographs. They also insisted previewing the photos and approving them.

Puddles of stagnant water on the tiny lanes and open drains that run along the lane gave out a foul smell. But hardly anyone seemed to bother about it. Filth and squalor have become part of their lives.

Laughter of children and shouts of elders filled the air and elders and youngsters greeted us with folded hands.

There were hardly any gloomy faces in those lanes.

How do people find happiness in such dreary existence? I asked myself. They seem to fit very well with the beatific life that Jesus preached: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

They have no social security, no healthcare schemes. But they lead what appears to be a perfect, blissful life. God has protected them so far — and they are certain he will continue to protect them and their children in future.

Maybe they are, indeed, “Slumdog Millionaires” — with priceless riches we can’t see.

Read more and discover why ‘My Great Hope is the Sisters’ in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE.

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