Pettah Bus Terminal is a busy place in Sri Lanka. Men and women of all religions, all shapes, all ages walk around the area, searching for a means of livelihood for the day. Poverty is the only factor common to them, having a reason to fight for a seat on the bus.
A young girl around five years of age emerged out of the crowd on that day with dark sunburned skin, untidy hair and a torn yellowish dress suggestive of her position in the equation of the country’s economy. Two elderly women, presumably around their eighties, accompanied her. The young girl must have argued with them. Anger brought so many words to the girl's mouth that any well-mannered individual would find her attitude inappropriate. “Bitch” the girl shouted at one of the elderly women, repetitively. The woman’s face betrayed sadness. She said nothing but quietly sat down on a seat. The other woman tried to make the child quiet with few threats but in vain. The girl kept finding more offensive words of abuse. Passersby looked at them in contempt, but no one interfered. Finally, an old man seated nearby stood up. He seemed to be in his eighties, dirty appearance with torn clothes that conveyed his station of life.
He approached the child and in a not too gentle way spoke. ‘Bitch, learn how to speak to your elders’. With this, his palm landed on the child’s cheek. The child started crying and screaming. One of the women stood up her eyes flaming with anger. ‘How dare you touch my grandchild?’. Suddenly blows made by her landed on the man’s face. Surprised by the unexpected reaction, he fell on the ground. The woman bent down landing more and more blows, trying to strangle him. ‘Murder, murder’, the man was only able to shout, and finally, the timekeeper at the terminal separated them with much effort. The man was so scared that he flew away from the scene immediately. I noticed that he even forgot his slippers, which were lying on the floor. Finally, the rude girl and the two elderly women walked away.
Observers of the scene had mixed reactions of amusement, utter shock, contempt and ignorance.
I try to find which character to blame most. Should I blame the girl, who used abusive words so openly and so bravely in public? The words might be familiar to her like the word ‘mother’ is familiar to you or me. Was the old man guilty by meddling in affairs that do not concern him? Should he be blamed for treating the child so harshly? Alternatively, should the old man be accused of trying to correct the child by the only means he knew?
Is it the two elderly women’s fault that the young girl was rude and abusive? With all the mistakes the child made, their attitude indicated immense love for her. Should they be blamed for loving the child and protecting her so dearly, when some mothers dump their child into the gutter?
After recalling the scene many times, I still don’t know how to solve the puzzle and whom to blame. Do you?
By Hiranya Dissanayake
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