They don't exist in the catalogue versions of the city. You never see them on BBC or TripAdvisor's coverage of London. Jet-setting friends return without ever making any mention of them, yet in the actual city you come across these homeless everywhere. They are nowhere near in number to the throngs of beggars that crowd the traffic signals of Lahore, but the impact of their loneliness, guilt and visibly broken spirits is somehow greater on the soul. Perhaps because the beggars in Lahore are usually assertive, soliciting money actively, even aggressively, tapping on car windows with force, sometimes even throwing the coin right back at you if it doesn't live up to their expectations. In London they just huddle on the edge of a tube station or street corner trying to shield themselves against the city's cold evenings, feebly calling out to passersby for a coin; many too ashamed to attempt even that. They invariably wear a far away, glassy look and an acute sense of having failed in a world that lays so much premium on winning. It is perhaps the contrast with their surroundings that makes their plight more readily moving, or it could be my personal immunity to the everyday sufferings of our own poor, part of an endemic cycle of injustice and hardship that everyone but the very elite are protected from. I fear romanticizing their plight, but in Lahore, beggarwomen often form a curbside community of females more loose-limbed than their middle class counterparts, their children tearing about on roundabouts, fighting and sometimes laughing amongst themselves, living some form of community on the very fringes of society. London's homeless, however, exist in complete isolation.
|On Millennium Bridge|
|Holborn. I could have taken another, less fuzzy picture, but it seemed callous to let him catch me photographing him, so I just made do with the first click. The manner in which he just sits there conveys enough.|
|A woman sleeping on the pavement near King's Cross Station|
|Tottenham Court Road|