Living in the Mylapore, Santhome or Luz vicinity, most of you would have noticed a foreign lady vagabond. She accosts people on the road, in bus stops and asks for money or favors, walks into shops and demands things for cheap and so on. Though I’ve come across her many times (and promptly avoided), she always make me wonder about what made her this way.
She doesn’t directly fit into the category of “beggar”. She was mentally incapacitated. That doesn’t exactly warrant tolerance, for everyone is doing business for a livelihood and simply offering her help is scary. She is always dressed in shoes, a long shirt and loose pants folded up. Every now and then she sports something new. Of late, it’s a pup.
Is she Anglo Indian? Did she come to India and go this way? Where is she from? How long has she been around? Where does she sleep? Live? She’s a lady, how about her monthly needs? Daily ablutions? Most importantly, will I tip her?
From “I came here to look for work, my pocket got picked. I need money to go home” to “Amma, thaye..” beggary comes in variety. Charity is certainly a virtue I believe in but tipping a beggar isn’t charity, because in all probability, the same man will be in the same place everyday to look for work in the city and his purse got picked and he needs money to go home. Charity in this case, is encouraging an invisible print across your forehead reading “Jackass!”
Till recently, to tip or not, was a mere spur of the moment decision. Of late, I ve begun to believe, “you’re able bodied. Go work, Damn it!” Encouraging someone earn by doing nothing is indirectly demeaning those who lesser than that beggar by doing tons of more hard labor. Its encouraging the tons of the children stolen and subjecting them to this activity.
While tipping a child, it has always been a decision between not giving and not encouraging a mobster earn money by employing children to beg or protect the child from him who’ll beat her/him up if he didn’t earn well.
Begging is the top-most completely tax-free profession. Almost all of you would have seen a beggar recharging his mobile prepaid credit and he has a top of the range mobile phone. Or at least it’s better than the one you have. Majority of the beggars are able bodied and earn more than what a hard daily wage earner is likely to earn. Beggars owning property, vehicles, bank accounts, etc are facts. We all know it, yet we tip. Sometimes out of religion, out of pity falling for their deceptive presentation or sometimes out of their sheer tenacity.
It’s almost a Catch 22 here without deciding to absolutely reject, because exercising discretion is mostly futile. While a beggar is obvious about being one, there are these guised ones who lurk around as commonly as the former. They’re not in rags. They’re decently dressed and they have a story to tell. One of my dear friends out of soft heartedness once helped a decently dressed old lady cross the street. Once across, the lady claimed to have been lost. My friend directed her about which bus to take and gave her the required change. She argued saying she was old to take a bus and thankfully, my friend hadn’t fallen for the same. The next week, the same lady stood accosting people for help. My friend went up to her and heard her same sad story again and gave her a piece of her mind, though the lady ran away before she was even half done.
So, the next time you’ve felt mean or embarrassed standing in ignorance of someone asking alms, tell yourself, “I won’t encourage beggary” and save your benevolence for orphanages or social welfare institutions.
Published in The Hindu NxG