Being in a car stuck in traffic is not easy. In addition to the stubborn red signal, there is one more thing that makes me lose my cool – a begging child at the window or worse, a begging mom with her child clinging on to her. Earlier it used to be just a matter of checking if I had some coins. But these days it is a matter of strength. I will tell you why.
A year back, I happened to watch a Tamil movie titled ‘Naan Kadavul.’ This movie and a few others which I watched following it opened my eyes into how begging is an organized activity in India. Yes! there is usually a leader who gathers disfigured people and children and sell them out to local ‘gundas’ who control joints in urban areas. Places of religious interests are also covered in a similar way. I was shocked to realize some of these beggars have a price tag of a few lakhs of rupees on them, depending on how disfigured they are (or how much sympathy they evoked). I found this fact sickening. It may be true that this may not be happening everywhere. But once I started looking out for a pattern in trains, railway stations, temples and bus stops, I realized that there was indeed one. I made a decision not to offer alms anymore and maintained that for a long time. I felt I was doing a good deed – not entertaining begging. And for those who think they are poor people in need of help, let me tell you, I have seen people in worse conditions earn their bread. ‘There are other ways to survive because we are human beings and that is a gift,’ I am sure. I know a mentally challenged man who makes money fetching water, a limping man who sells toys, a blind woman who sings in troupes and a disabled who eats his meal at temples and simply rests. By offering alms, I would be enabling profit for some ruthless clan of people, undermining India’s civility in many ways.
I look at people who offer alms. Some do it realizing how well they are doing relative to the beggar, some do it out of pity and some do it for prestige among his people. Whatever it is, no beggar seems to be saving anything, using it to start a business, or at least take a shower (I have seen beggars who make 300 rupees a day). I only see more and more people enter this ‘lucrative’ business.
Getting back to the day I was confronted by a begging boy… He was about 10 years of age and he was knocking my window with determination and poise. I looked at him to communicate to him I wouldn’t pay (as i usually do). This time I saw a greater resolve in his eyes. He looked back strong at me. His facial expression was of course a fabricated one, that depicted textbook helplessness. But his eyes; They sent a strong message. It seemed like a threat, a blackmail. Yes, he was making me feel responsible for his state of life. He was well aware of my perspective of vision. He was aware that he was standing foreground to those high rise buildings in the backdrop that represented development in the country. He was reinforcing the fatalist in me. He was questioning my karmic duty pointing to me that whatever my ideals were, my presence and good life on earth was responsible for someone else’s pain and suffering. There was absolutely no request in his gaze; Just statements. He had strong vocabulary in his eyes. My hand felt weak and started moving towards my wallet. But then, I stopped myself, looked away, looked through my decisions and lessons learned in retrospect. After a great struggle, after intense thought that traveled back to the challenges me and my best friends had to face, I conquered my hand.
The signal turned green and I drove away not looking at the boy again. I felt a little stronger, wiser and capable of holding on to ideals that made sense to me.