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Essay: Man on the Landing

In the Traverse City area, the issue of homelessness has been in the news lately as the community seeks ways to understand and solve this chronic problem. I am reminded of a book I read several years ago called “The Death of Vishnu.”

This novel is about a drunk, homeless man who lives on a staircase landing of an apartment building in Bombay, India. His name is Vishnu and he is not alone—because other homeless people live on other landings in the same building.

It seems that this is not uncommon in India—that residents of the apartments help care for the homeless by letting them live on the landings, by feeding them and having them run errands. Vishnu, however, is an unreliable helper because he is ill and probably dying. What will his neighbors do?

It is a compelling story and more than a story, a parable. And it made me wonder how the conversation about homelessness in Traverse City would be different if each of us had a homeless person living on our front porch? An individual we got to know and for whom we felt some personal responsibility?

In India, of course, Vishnu is also the name of a god.