Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Quest for a Beggar

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.
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Anonymous said...

Such wonderful news that beggars are now becoming tradespeople - this surely is a step in the right direction!

I make loans via KIVA ( because your whole loan goes to those who need it... You then end up paying 15 % extra to cover admin costs so that you know these costs are not taken out of your loan.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm surprised to hear this, Rayna. I wonder if it's the same in other cities in India.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Marjorie said...

I'm happy it was so hard for you to find a beggar. The people who WERE begging look like they just wanted any honest means of earning an income. I wish it was the same in my city. On Christmas I did give a bit to someone asking. Generally I don't like to give to the beggars in this town. Tucson has a BIG drug problem, and I'm always afraid the person asking for money is wanting it for their next fix.

There is a homeless man that lives just outside my neighborhood. I might give him money if it weren't for the fact that he is crazy. I'm afraid to go near him at all.

Patricia Stoltey said...

What a joyful thing to find small businessmen and women instead of beggars. That sounds like a very healthy trend.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

I was sure I had replied, but apparently not :-(

@ Fiona - I love the concept of Kiva. Have been in the non-profit sector enough to know that one of the most difficult things to do is brining together donor and donee (for lack of a better word). Kiva does that so effectively, you wonder why nobody thought of it before

@ Elizabeth - I would think not. The people in Bombay tend to be more entrepreneurial than in other parts of the country (mainly because it is the more enterprising ones who migrate to this city). But, a few years back, there were beggars everywhere. Now there are not. Which can only mean good things eventually.

@ Marjorie - absolutely. Luckily, the drug problem is not such a great problem in India, and people begging for money are doing it to fill their stomachs and not their veins. And if I had a crazy man in my neighbourhood, I would be scared to approach him too.

@ Patricia - it is. It is a very, very healthy trend. When you beg, you lose a bit of your sense of self worth - this way, you are an honest partner in a transaction. Can only mean good things.


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