Let me take you to Lucknow of 1970 to share a personal experience which I found funny then but thought-provoking now.
I had given my wrist watch at Rupani Bros. for repairs. So on our way back from the University, I asked a friend of mine to stop over for a few minutes in Hazratganj to take care of my bicycle while I went to pick up my watch from the shop.
As I stepped down after picking up the watch, I was intrigued to find my friend grappling with a young beggar woman who was trying to wrench her wrist from her firm grip holding a baby in another arm. Suspecting trouble, I ran to my friend’s rescue and tried to intervene. In the melee’ that followed, the beggar-woman managed to pull her wrist away and ran, with me chasing her.
“Let her go. Let her go,” my friend called out after me.
On hearing her, I stopped and came back.
“What had happened?” I inquired excitedly.
“Nothing,” my friend, cool as a cucumber, continued in her inimitable style, “This woman was asking for money. So I advised her to do some work instead of begging. I told her that she is hale and hearty and should not demean herself by seeking alms.”
“So, what happened then?”
“Well, she replied that there are no jobs available. So I told her that she should come with me. Our maid has left. She could stay in our servant quarters and work in our house. We would have given her salary as well as food and shelter. But she started running away. So I caught hold of her wrist and told her to sit on the carrier of my bike so that I could take her home. Ha..ha..ha..Seeing a potential employer, she ran away.”
As she shared this, we laughed and laughed pedalling our way home.
Today whenever I think of it, I can’t help thinking that we the people are basically responsible for encouraging beggary in our country. We think that by giving alms to beggars, we are washing away our sins or may be doing some good to humanity. Or is it that by doing so, we are unburdening ourselves of the guilt of having all that the poor beggar is deprived of? The fact is that by giving alms to professional beggars, yes I mean professional beggars, we are only encouraging a tendency to beg and shun hard work.
Here I must share a more recent experience of mine. While driving down quite late from office, I think it was around 11pm at night, that a pedestrian on the pavement near Hotel Hyatt Regency caught my eye. A frail bearded fellow wearing pants and T-shirt walking confidently looked very familiar …who is he? Where have I seen him? I kept wondering without my brain finding an answer.
Next day morning, as I stopped at the same traffic junction, I sighted the same old, frail, bearded man who was lame also whom I had seen so many times begging at this traffic light. He walked with the help of a stick and had an aluminium begging bowl in his hand as usual. Half bent as he moved towards my car, the expression on his face invoked tremendous sympathy in the passersby.
It is then that it flashed like lightening, he was the same guy who I had seen walking confidently on the pavement the previous night with both legs intact! He was apparently in his professional attire now.