Begging is a common sight everywhere.The difference lies in the execution.
|Having lived in India for some years, I can tell you, India is famous for its rich civilization evidenced by the monumental Taj Mahal, the Moghul palaces, the Hindu shrines, its multi-linguistic, colorful and multi-cultural society. Tourists flock here to see this grand majesty on display. They are generally amazed by what they see; the grandeur of the palaces, of the Taj; of a culture so diverse yet so united in faith and cultural values. It is also a known fact that India, the world’s largest democracy with more than a billion population, is strongly developing into a powerful nation to reckon with. Its style of politics has started to catch the attention of other nations.
The magnificence of the Taj Mahal is one tale; the presence of people begging on the streets, at every major traffic signal is another tale. It is the tale of the latter which travels across continents, because it’s no ordinary begging. It is the kind which permeates to your being; the kind which itches your skin. It is an artful expertise on display. Who is what? It’s difficult to differentiate the genuine from the impostor. It is astounding to note that each day of the week, beggary is enacted by a group of so-called ‘people-asking-for mercy’: ‘help me, please’, food, please’, group. They are the lepers on a Monday, the lame on a Tuesday, the blind on a Wednesday, the children on a Thursday, and the dirty-clothed women with a baby dangling in their arms on a Saturday. Fridays and Sundays must be off-days. I don’t get to see a special group. There are a handful of independent players, not play acting, but genuinely supplicating. There are also decently clothed men just hanging by the corners of places frequented by the rich, famous and the beautiful.
A couple, who were my neighbors once, goes begging for a living. Like full-time workers, they beg on an eight-hour a day schedule, rests on weekend. They have a decent brick house and lot of their own.
One Sunday, as I was walking a busy lane, an old, stooping woman with tremors in her hands came behind me. I could hear her pleas for a rupee. I gave her two. Two rupees is still big money in India. It can buy you something to fill your hunger. To my amazement, she suddenly stood straight and energetically without a word, walked past me. I was stunned. I called her back; so quick was she that in a flash, she was gone.
Once, my attention was caught by a group of women, with babies and small children, animatedly chatting, alight from a bus. They were ordinary passengers but their behavior wasn’t. My keen eye saw them gather in one corner of a store by the roadside, where they hurriedly changed into their beggar costumes, each one picking up a child, each one collecting their tin container. I gave them a wink. They gave me genuine smiles. They were ready for business.
An article published two-years ago made an interesting reading for its social relevance…
“Sambhaji Kale and his family of four beg for a living and at the end of the day, make a cool Rs. 1000. When days are bad, they always have the Rs 40,000 stacked in the bank, a few thousand rupees in investment companies, a flat in Virar, two houses and a plot of land in Solapur, to fall back on.” The survey conducted in Mumbai revealed Sambhaji Kale is just one among the richest of the 100,000 beggars in the city.
A friend narrated her encounter with a beggar, all cuddled and covered by the roadside. Thinking something was wrong; she lifted the cover and found him talking on the mobile.
The women-beggars I saw have become familiar faces. They no longer approach me. I approach them instead and mimicking, I beg from them. They all spill into laughter then and will try to hide their tins behind their backs or underneath their burqas. They know at any moment, I will peep into their tins and see how much they earned for the day. I am happy to hear the sounds of laughter from these people, who, under pitiful disguises, genuinely toil under the heat and rain to make a living. It doesn’t matter then that most of them have turned small-time money lenders. They deserve a little more.
Acting is an art. Acting is work. Begging is skillful acting. There are people whispering about these groups working for a syndicate; who, after the day’s collections, will give each one their share of the bounty. The only truth I know is what I see. I do not support nor encourage this trade for they present an eye sore. However, they are people needing to survive, to feed their families and they are people who do not require pity but help from those who truly understand them for what they have become.
The government has rehabilitated most of them. But they are back in the streets. It has become their way of life. The question is — is the action taken too late?
I saw toddlers soundly sleeping on the pavement of a big mall in downtown Zamboanga.Is it possible these kids were drugged instead? I have no answer. I am sure their masters must be watching the activity somewhere close by. I wonder if the government ever considered or thought about the plight of these children or investigated those behind this exploitation. I wonder if the upcoming government will turn a blind eye to this, too .I wonder if due to inaction as in the previous, we will wake up one day and see a proliferation of baby beggary mushroom into an industry in the city; a beggar industry, a profitable venture, easily tax-free.