Monday, May 3, 2010

The Young And The Wise

Once a week I go to a nearby commercial complex and wait.

My daughter attends a coaching class there and has a class till 9 pm. Sometimes the class goes on almost till 9.30.  Although the complex is pretty close to home there is a slum in the area and I do not feel very comfortable letting her walk home alone.

 The complex has a few eateries. There are some coaching centres. There are also some other shops and the place is generally very vibrant and alive at that time. It is a nice place to watch people. Last week when I was waiting for my daughter to finish her class a very interesting episode happened. A street urchin, a boy of nine or ten, started begging people for some money. He said he was hungry and had not eaten anything that day. He said he wanted some money to buy food. He looked unkempt, though he wore rather decent clothes. He also wore shoes. For some reason, shoes are important to me. In my mind, that is a measure of poverty. A completely shoe less boy or girl always evoke greater sympathy. Perhaps because he noticed I did not carry any purse, the boy did not approach me. And even if he had, I doubt I would have given him any money. But he did ask a well dressed man who alighted from a swanky car. The man did not even spare a second glance at the boy and moved away. And that set me thinking. Are our rich less sensitive? Are they completely immune to other people's pain? And am I also slowly losing my empathetic side?

India has a thriving middle class. There are quite a few people in the country who are capable of giving a lot to the needy. But for some reason, we do not have the culture of sharing our wealth. We are so focussed on making our own lives comfortable that we have forgotten the joy of sharing. When I had gone to the United States for a visit, I was amazed at their culture of giving back to the society. Every where I went, the museums and the parks, the libraries and the community centres, I saw people willingly and happily sharing their time, their money and their energy to make things better. Here, looking at the man shunning the little boy, I wondered what kind of future my own country had. A country that has forgotten to share joy with others has no place amongst other great nations.

Just then, a young boy and his girl friend, perhaps in their late teens spotted the urchin and called him. They took him to a tea stall and bought him a vada-pav, Mumbai's favourite all time snack. Looking at the young couple, my heart filled with joy. I forgot all about my earlier ruminations. See the young people of India! How different they are from the earlier generation! The youth of our country indeed have their hearts in the right place. They have plenty of empathy, and they do care about their poor fellow country men. In just a few minutes, my dark thoughts had changed colours. My India was on the right track and I was upbeat and optimistic once again.

What do you think happened next? The moment the young couple turned away, the small boy without any hesitation, fed the vada pav to a street dog. He was not hungry, he just wanted some money... perhaps to gamble, perhaps to smoke. May be even to buy drugs. He definitely was not impressed with the young couple's generosity. A few minutes later, he started begging again.

So tell me, was the man in the swanky car heartless or was he just wise? Were the teenage boy and the girl naive? If they knew the young boy made a fool of them, would they ever give anything to any body again? And what about the boy? Did he even care? 

The incident upset me, I do not know why. May be because it reminded me that I live in a metro where a lot of people do not care how the other half lives. That I live in a metro where a lot of people tend to think it is all right to con others. Or may be because I was reminded that I live in a metro where a lot of caring people stop giving just because they can not tell whether they are being taken for a ride...

41 comments:

anamika said...

When I was a teenager I always wished to help every one who I saw on the street.But when i grew up I realized how wrong I was.

Poverty certainly doesn't exist in Metros.Any one can easily find a job to at least feed them selves.

Poverty lies in areas where you do not even see light till date.We dont bother to make an effort to reach these areas and help out genuine people considering it as govt job.:)

Nona said...

The swank car guy must have given a lot in the past and have stopped after being constantly taken for a ride! Or may be he was always like this!

I guess the young couple will shower kindness like they showed until they get tired of being taken for a ride! I hope that never happens!

Nikita Banerjee said...

I am a cynic. I don't entertain beggars with money. Food yes, if I am eating something I might buy or just choose to ignore. Begging is a business. How can we then be compassionate or considerate towards them?

kirti said...

The young couple was kind hearted and wise too. instead of giving some money to the kid they decided to offer help in kinds ( knowing that money can be misused) . atleast their money worth vada pav did not become a contribution towards buying drugs.
Even I have stopped giving money to kids , realising that its a great disservice we are doing by giving them alms. I would rather buy stuff from kids .I feel middle class has not lost its empathy , sometimes its the apprehension that our money would be misused ,makes us stop from helping instantaneously.

Kavi said...

This is exactly my grouse ! A similar incident caused me to take a decision some years back : I will give, but only on my terms.

The street urchins and others, sometime break my heart. But then, i havent been able to get myself to overcome the feeling that i 'could have been cheated'... !

Thats the way the world spins !

Aparna said...

Anamika, you are absolutely spot on. In a city like Mumbai, there are opportunities galore. People will not starve if they are willing to work. And we always tend to think that it is the duty of the government to do anything worthwhile.

Nona, I hope the young people never lose their faith. It will be sad if that happens.

Nikita, I do not entertain beggers also. But sometimes, when those kids play in the dirt, don't we all want to do something for them?

Kirti, we in India have been taken for a ride so many times, by so many people that we have stopped believing in others. I felt bad for the young couple though.

Kavi, isn't it sad that we have started applying terms and conditions on giving? But we have been cheated so many times in the past that we have become cynical. Sorry state of affairs.

Lincoln said...

No one should give money to beggars, u can give food/clothing etc etc but not money bcoz money goes to their big guardians who exploits them......And now its a big business....

I'm Nu said...

I'm always sceptical while these beggars are around..the tussle is between the genuine and the rest.

I usually don't prefer helping the beggars who look fit to me and young for that matter but with an attitude of just begging and living.

Secondly,I have been nearly conned in by these beggars at one point and hence the faith on my own judgement has gone for a toss.

Finally,I would certainly call that man a wise man or an experienced man for that matter.

May since you also pointed the boy wearing shoes and his poverty defined by that.

After watching movie like: 'Traffic Signal' and 'Slumdog Millionaire' you at least get the feel of what's brewing under these beggars plot !

But again I'm not saying all are making fool out of us but it's just that we need to probably catch them right and then do the needful !

I liked and agree to your point as to what happens in west..yes,people there are ready to give back and that's the motto..even when they see strangers they will greet him/her with a smile..but here in India if any body smiles at me I would first suspect the person..specially if it is a unknown man...that's the mentality..which we will may be come over but after 10 years !

Oops..just wrote a mini post,swaarrry :P

Anu said...

I see such sights all around me, which is why i have hardened myself and refuse to give any one any money... my father in law cant bear to see such people, and always carries coins with him, and recently, when he gave one of the beggars a one-rupee coin, the chap refused to take it, which simply proved that he wasnt in dire need... but u know what, my father in law now carries two rupee coins,and gives two each to the beggars - not just a sheer waste, but it also encourages more people to beg........ of course, i understand that there are people genuinely in need, but it is difficult to spot them in the crowd of professionals... surely there must be a better way to handle them,but i havent found one yet......

Haddock said...

One of the reasons why the beggars are not given money, is because its an organized racket involving big gangs.
Remember the old movie Boot Polish, or the latest Slumdog Millioner. The stories are every close to home truth.
I myself have seen people being off loaded from a truck in the morning a little away from the traffic signal. They then beg at the signal, and at dusk the same truck comes and picks them up !!

Lazy Pineapple said...

I feel that instead if rationalizing on whether the kid did what he did...we should not stop helping someone in need.

The kid might have abusive parents who want him to beg for money and not food. I have heard of numerous such incidents where a child will be begging for money so that his parents could drink or get high.

I never give cash to kids...always food.
These things will keep on happening as long as we have so much of disparity in income.

Once bitten, twice shy could be the reason the rich guy just walked off.

The Panorama said...

Really nice post; Aparna.
Too many issues here but I think it is hard to analyse it. I mean, the boy could be wanting money to buy medicine or maybe he wa sbeing pressured by a big boss to gather money ...or as you say wanted it for drugs or whatever.
The world is indeed a brutal and cynical place and people sieze opportunites for persoanl games.

Yet, I feel one shouldn't be so cynical that one turns a blind eye and deaf ear to the plight of the poor. I mean, should the poor be grateful for any alms they get and be the gratefulk poor? Somewhere along the line, there has been an injustice that ensures that poverty goes from generation to generation

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BK Chowla, said...

I am of the firm opinion , those who are needy must get help.But, what can one do when one reads about begging rackets being run by the mafia in major cities?

UmaS said...

I too get confused sometimes becos of the way these ppl try to cheat money out of us. There are times, when such things really hurt us - when we find those ppl are not handicapped at all in the first place and we were totally fooled by them.

But later, I've learnt one thing and I follow it to the heart. I wanted to give to the poor and the needy a certain amount of money, every month. I give it irrespective of the fact, that they might be cheating me. I've done my part. If they are cheating, their conscience shld teach them better. Once I decide to give, I just do it.

Backyard Bargain said...

Many of them are cheaters, but we can't differentiate between the really needy people and the cheaters.

One day one lady come to me and said that she needs some amount to cure her child. I gave her, but she refuse to take the amount given by me. She wanted more amount. That time I don't have much amount. I told her to take what I have. She went away without taking that money. I was shocked... If she really need some money, she should took from me.

RGB said...

A child shouldn't be on the streets begging in the first place. He is, because it's become his job. The money he earns (begging) goes to some thug who perhaps rakes in more money than you or me, training such children to beg.

If we really intend to help such children, we should work towards abolishing beggary for good and rehabilitate them, giving them a home to stay, good food and good education, so they can stand on their own foot someday.

The old adage holds good - "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a life time."

sujata said...

This just means that we always see at a half painted picture...this time you as a neutral observer saw the complete picture and so your thought..but with everything in our lives..we always see just a part of the story..and move on.

Aparna said...

Lincoln, yes, begging is a big business apparently.

Nu, I feel we have been cheated so many times in the past that we have lost our faith. We always suspect that there is a motive behind everything. It is sad but it is the truth. I also do not think in 10 years things are going to change. it will still remain the same. I guess I am cynical now.

Anu,yes the more we give, the more encouragement the beggars get. I do not agree with your father in law but I also understand his need to help other people.

Haddock, what you saw was shocking, a truck to ferry the beggars? OMG!

Lazy Pineapple,giving food is much better than giving money. At least we know the money is not being spent on drugs or alcohol.

Saroj,excellent view. I at times feel that our poor need a lot of help from the civilians to get out of this cycle. It is not just the role of the government.

BK Chowla, giving alms does not help. May be if we all chip in to encourage their education or help them to find suitable employment, we could be really helping them.

UmaS, I agree with you there, if we decide to give we must go ahead and do so. May be clothes or books or food. Sometimes it is best to give them time and teach a skill that would help them to earn a better living.

Backyard Bargain, your story just proved that these people do not really need money that desperately. They are really looking for some easy way to earn some quick buck.

RGB, I liked the adage and to be honest, this is the first time I heard this.

Sujata, yes, I saw the whole picture, and it wasn't pretty.

Sharmila said...

From what I know from the hindi movies and stories, these kids have to have money to give whoever they work for at the end of the day.
So I always make it a point to feed such kids, especially the very small ones who still value food and whose eyes light up even for a biscuit.
And we should not lose heart or faith I think ... these kids need us.
And if the kid threw away the food, aren't we glad to know that at least he wasn't hungry? :-)

ZB said...

Humm, Its a catch 22, no doubt....but, i have been taught since childhood that beggars remain beggars only coz people entertain them, with food or money...We are cultivating beggar-ism every time we offer them money....I strongly feel people should stop offering them, and they should be forced to look for alternatives.....I dont know about Mumbai, but in kerala there is so much shortage of labor....A construction worker gets paid Rs.450/day( as per my father).

I guess there are just no free lunches in the world. If all of Mumbai stops paying Beggars, will all of them starve to death? I dont think so. But may be they will come out of it and fend for themselves, without begging....
Lovely post and soome food for thought there...TC:)

Destiny's child... said...

Even I am feeling bad for the young couple. Would they help anyone if they saw what the boy did?
What we see, read and hear, has made us an extremely skeptical lot. Sometimes after giving little street kids a few rupees and seeing them happily running away, hurling abuses at each other, I feel guilty of encouraging beggary...

starry said...

Just hopped on over from Kavi's musings to say hello.enjoyed reading your post.

blunt edges said...

now aren't these the reasons why we have stopped helping people!

n i can't help but wonder that u are generalizing pretty soon...ek uncle ko dekh liya toh the entire "older generation is snobbish"...saw one couple toh "young india is different"?!?!?!

Neel said...

Well..There is a reason to why people in the US are more willing to share their time and wealth than the people in India.

Since I have been brought up in India and I am at this point of time, the middle income working class in the US, I know for sure that people in India have to work almost 300 times harder as compared to their US counterparts to achieve the same standards of living...

So, if you do the math, this would make a person in India, 300 times less willing to part with his/her hard-earned wealth.

Also, people (irrespective of their nationalities) should not pity a beggar, seemingly healthy, and capable of earning his two square meals a day.

People should work,(if necessary..wash cars or untensils..if one does not have the privilege of being educated)to earn their wealth.

Jyothi said...

No one likes being taken for a ride. I guess this is the fear that we have when we meet a stranger irrespective of whether he is a well dressed middle class or an unkempt person.

Begging should be declared as a crime. When u understand, observe and then give(share ur wealth) its charity. When it is demanded or conned out off you, its a crime.

The Holy Lama said...

most probably the young boy might be controlled by a gang that needs money and the young fellow might get thrashed if he doesn't achieve the day's target. The only way to dissuade such things to continue is to call child helpline, hand over kid and never give any alms in the cities. You can also help the poor in rural areas b'coz they beg only when destiny makes them.

Samvedna said...

That wealthy man was wise...begging should nevr be encourages.

Just the other day a girl was begging, my sister asked her to do some work and the she would get food and money both,,,that begging girl vanished without a thought.

unsungpsalm said...

Am I wrong to feel touched that the needy-boy was sensitive enough to feed the dog?

crackedchronicles said...

It's a sad state of fake and genuine. Bcoz of the fake ones someone who really needs help are ignored. Kya karen life and it's tamasha...

I have no clue how I would react at such situations...I go by my gut feelings and still something happens...I can at least blame it on my silly senses.

Aparna said...

Sharmila, this kid was not hungry at all,in fact rather cocky and that angered me a bit.

ZB, there is no shortage of work in Mumbai as well. But some people are lazy and would rather beg.

Destiny's child, no matter what, you should never give in to beggars. that will only encourage them to be even more lazy.

Blunt edges, well, when you put it that way, it does seem like generalization :)

Neel, true, people in India work a lot harder. Also, food is more expensive and we are more wary of sharing our wealth with other people.

Jyothi, no matter what, we should never give in to beggars, we do not not know what he/she is doing with that money after all.

Holy lama, yes, we do hear about these gangs all the time...

Samvedna, some people think begging is the easy way out and do not want to work.

Unsung, the boy was not needy, just greedy.

Rajesh said...

These urchins are more organised than any of us. They are very clear on what they want. Even they hire small babies and carry them around for begging - baby has not fed for many days. All these and more refrain people from sharing in India.

Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi

Kanupriya said...

Very true, its just so difficult to understand who is really needy and who is trying to extract it out of u? Despite all the intention to help, even I have at times hesitated in giving because of some past experiences where people have tried to take advantage unnecessarily.

Onkar said...

You are right. Whom to help and how is an important question.

林尹 said...

IT IS A VERY NICE SUGGESTION, THANK YOU LOTS! ........................................

Swaram said...

Its very difficult to decide Aparna as to who is genuine and who is not. Its nt that ppl do nt want to help, but there are few who take advantage of it and pose as beggars. There's an entire network and agencies operating too. Even if we hv money, ppl wud nt want to be deceived for it.
I hd written a post on these lines too sometime bk.
http://thesongoflife.wordpress.com/2010/01/21/genuine-or-not/

Neena Sharma said...

I don't know abt the guy in the swanky car, but we Indians generally lack in the spirit of giving. We have Mukesh Ambani but can he ever do a Bill Gates, giving away his money to the poor and the needy? I doubt it...

Tomz said...

There are two sides..

First, We can give some money to the boy out of charity, but there is a chance for the money to be misused..

Let it be the other way round, The boy has the capacity to work and earn money. SO we need not to help him since giving him money may make him lazy.But then the guilt consciousness may tell us that what we did was not virtue..

In any case I used to take the side of second school of thought.

Aparna said...

Rajesh, the begging in India has become an organized sector.

Kanupriya, I agree with you 100%

Onkar, yes what you say is very true.

Swaram, I'll try to read what you had written. Beggars have become a menace to our society and no one seems to have a clue as to what to do.

Neena Sharma, Have you read about Mukesh Ambani's new house being constructed these days?

Tomz, we are all a bit confused about what is the right thing to do here. The urchin was not hungry, and he needed to be at home studying to make his life better.

bluebird said...

very powerful! It is a difficult decision, and I try to choose on a case to case basis, rather than having a generalized policy. As a rule I don't believe in giving away small change. If I am to give money at all it should rather be a specific amount for a specific purpose, and never acting upon a momentary emotional appeal/blackmail.

Sumandebray said...

"yeh hai mumbai mere jaan"
thats all I can think off ... kahani bahut Filmy hai.. thats another way of looking at it

but very well written!