On the first day of the New Year, I went looking for a beggar.
Don't ask me why I went looking for a beggar- it is a long story. A very long story involving my mother, a partial lunar eclipse happening my moon sign and an old superstition about giving alms after an eclipse to get rid of the negative effects it has on you.
One would think that finding a beggar in Bombay would be as easy as finding a man chewing gum on the streets of New York - after all, isn't this a country where beggars find you, rather than the other way around? Not! I walked in a direction which I knew attracted the less fortunate, but after 15 minutes of looking, I didn't find a single beggar. There were men with missing limbs selling handkerchifs, there were children in rags selling vegetables, there were destitute looking women selling neem sticks. But there were no beggars! Since the donation I was wanting to make was higher than the anticipated daily income of any of those people, I could have given the money to any of them, but I could not bring myself to insult a tradesperson by giving them alms.Since my directionless searching was not yielding results, I decided to be more strategic about it. Which is the one place most people visit on New Year's Day? The temple, church, mosque or gurudwara. That was where I should be looking - there were no beggars on the streets, because they were all begging near the places of worship. The realisation came to me in a blinding flash, and I walked on air all the way to the nearest temple. No beggars. Maybe they were somewhere else. I checked out four temples, one church, and three mosques, and drew a blank at all of them. There were women selling flowers, and men selling religious amulets. But no beggars anywhere.
I was frustrated at not being able to do what I had set out to do, but even more I was mad at myself. When I did not believe the stars controlled my destiny, why did I have to believe any of the stuff about the eclipse happening against the backdrop of the zodiac sign that was in ascendent when I was born? But since so many things had gone wrong last year, I did not want to take a chance on things going wrong again. Which is why I was rushing from one place of worship to another on a cold and dark January evening when I should have been home with my family.
I finally reached a decision- I would go home and make an online donation to a charity. Even after taking away the 3% the online platform would charge for the service, and the 20% administration overheads that any non-profit would carry, most of the money would directly reach a person who needed help. That was subverting the rules a bit, but the rules were written at a time when people begged. I started walking homewards, then remembered a tiny darga tucked away in a narrow lane near the train tracks. I remembered seeing burqua clad women seeking alms there, and I did find one old lady there, in who's hands I happily pressed the money and walked away after giving her a big smile.
India does seem to be moving away from being a nation of beggars to being a nation of small entrepreneurs. And despite the weary feet, my heart sings when I think of my trials of yesterday evening.
I had blogged about this more than a year back too.