Yet again I wait at the traffic signal and the pirate beggar urgently taps on my window- pirate I say as he is attired that way but lame. And another fellow is forcefully using a dirty rag to wipe the car windshield in exchange for money. You will notice that they know where to knock- at the driver’s or passenger’s window in owner driven cars and passenger window in chauffeur driven ones or taxis.
Typically one can segment beggars in many ways-
a) Place of begging-temple, road, beach, train etc
b) Style of begging- physical diability, labour beggars- beg in exchange for song/ dance, car cleaning, astrology, outright sale- of flowers probably stolen from cemetary, cloth for wiping car, cheap toys, fancy dress
c) Age group
d) Alm Specific- amount of money expected or food or clothes or supposedly charity for education
e) Status- simple, straightforward beggars, forced beggars- they would have lost their money and need cash to get back home or beggars in disguise- sellers, proper salesmen who come door-to-door- the cash outflow from the donor goes higher as the status of the beggar goes up
I set thinking about my memorable beggar related incidents and have documented them below-
1. Lost Family- most common in Chennai- typically 2 couples. Either one of the men or one of the women will suddenly start walking along with you almost whispering- hindi maalum hai kya- meaning do you know Hindi? In a city like Chennai where any self-respecting Hindi speaking individual who rarely gets a chance to display his or her language skills, will open his or her trap and eagerly reply in the affirmative, mentally flexing the muscles. Then the raam kahaani (literally meaning autobiography or the epic-story) will start. Typically they would be going to Rameswaram in a group by train and would have been left behind when they got down at Chennai station to drink tea or fill water and all their money and ticket would be with the rest of the group who are on their way to Rameswaram. The women would be almost crying pathetically meanwhile at the very talk of their plight. Now they would ask for some money which they are raising to get back home in UP or Bihar or Orissa and would require a hefty donation from you who would be having just enough money to pay for auto fare in your purse. They will also want your address for returning the cash. It’s up to you to fall for the trap or suggest they go to the police to get their help.
2. Sick Baby- I had 2 same encounters in the same place in a 1 year gap- A woman in unidentifiable colour sari will be carrying a baby of less than a year and will ask you to pay for the fare to take the baby to the hospital. I parted with Rs 5 coin to pay for the bus fare to the nearest hospital that was walking distance away- Adyar Signal to Malar Hospital. And she demanded Auto fare! I refused and had an identical encounter next year and then I threatened to take her to the police. Before I could even get a response from her, she had sprinted across the signal that was still green and reached the other side. One who is familiar with the Adyar signal would know that there are too many other sides at this signal. I wonder where she picked up the baby and whether it was drugged.
3. Nautankibaaj Daaku (Dramatic Dacoit) - This one happened in Ranchi- an armed dacoit with face covered and all entered the shop where I was doing my purchases. At gun point he asked for money. The shop keeper and his assistants were smiling and giving coins to him. He was a regular “dacoit beggar” in the shops in that locality.
4. English (Speaking) Patient- We met this man at the Elliot’s Beach- He called himself Stalin.He mentioned that he had hurt his leg and was limping because of that and needed to go to the hospital at the other end of the town. Because of the good fortune of losing his wallet, he said, he had the good fortune of meeting us – everything happens for the good adage truly followed. Having said this, he regarded us as someone sent by God to help him reach right across the town to the hospital. We were brought to the beach that day to solely give him money. Not bus fare but auto or cab fare. And we must not imagine that he is a beggar- only a person in need asking for help. Well, well, well- as usual we suggested to get help from Police and he scooted off- quite fast despite his limping limb.
5. Sales Manager- This one frequents Elliots beach and carries a discarded bag used by Marketing / Sales Managers, for collecting his alms.
6. Blind Man’s Buff- Man is blind and wife can see. They are consistently seen on Elliots beach- (I seem to specialize on this locale) - man walks with hand on wife’s shoulder in typical hindi movie style. One day the husband was begging alone and his eyes were intact- I personally tested his seeing skills…even confirmed later whether or not he was that blind man.
7. Jadugar Muni- (Magician Sage) - This one accosted us at the Ranchi station when we were just about to drive away. Claimed that he can read our future and show magic. His magic show was to take a 10-rupee note from us, draw a few circles in the air, place the cash back on our palm, close the palm and walk away. When one opens the palm there is a blank paper on it.
8. Pester Power- the kids who wanted money to eat. I wanted to buy bananas worth Rs 5 for them but they wanted money so that they could go to the nearby hotel to have idly.
9. Applauding Menace- The eunuchs at Mumbai traffic signals- I had 2 major encounters with them when I was in an autorickshaw. They all of a sudden come and clap loudly in front of your face. I once screamed as I was too startled by the sudden clap. And then they prod and poke you for money and even smile sweetly at you since they know you are scared. I did some small talk saying that they startled me and therefore I screamed not because of the fact that they are eunuchs- one should not offend them you know! I parted reluctantly and slowly with a Re 1 coin – all the while waiting for the signal to turn green and since I couldn’t be slow beyond a point I had to hand it over to the waiting hand and got a soft yet firm slap on my thigh in exchange as the coin was of too low a denomination. Since the signal turned yellow they rushed to the next in line else do not know how many slaps and of what intensity I would have got. Moral Dilemma- it was a business trip so should I claim that Re 1 I parted with, under the section tips without bill? Or should I take the expensive cool cabs for the short distance from airport to Andheri or should I anyway take an auto and budget about Rs 5-10 for the eunuch beggars and claim that against tips- it would be anyway cheaper that the cost of the cool cab fare. In another encounter after a marriage in Delhi the eunuch gang came over and asked for Rs 12000 (roughly $250) since the family had the good fortune of obtaining a baby making machine. Final settled amount was Rs 8000 ($160)- not bad for a day during the marriage season and not forgetting that there is no season for births and they will smell out the new baby in their part of the town and come begging. And quite an upgrade from the 25 years ago when eunuchs came and danced in my neighbour’s house and in exchange took Rs 20 ( at that time the Indian Rupee value was equivalent to around Pound 1.6) and tried to snatch the frock that my mom was embroidering.
10. Mahatma’s Descendant- Met this one on the train at Vijaywada station- small puny boy painted in silver, dressed up like Gandhiji complete with the trademark spectacles, begging for alms.
11. Door to Door Salesman-cross between a beggar and a thief- this one was the biggest looter of all. He rang my bell on an afternoon when I was at home alone during the advanced stage of my pregnancy. He claimed to be from Hindustan gas-you know Hindustan gas Ma’m. We are installing fuel savers for your gas. I actually imagined that they have been sent from HP or Indane or the likes and are on Government orders. He exalted the virtues of fuel saving using that stuff– this is a metal net like thing that fits on the burner and channelises the flame to the dish and does not allow wastage. And it was coming at a reduced price of Rs 250 a pair. He handed over the item to me and asked me if I wanted more for fitting on all my 4 burners. Thankfully I said 2 will be enough. The state that I was in, I was feeling quite vulnerable and I still think that my mind had stopped functioning even though my instincts were telling me that he is a cheat. I asked him for the bill and the guarantee card which he gave- bill being a receipt that you get for ordinary donations that you make and the guarantee card was the pack cover and some obscure number printed on it. He even gave me the telephone number of the company on request. The moment he left I sort of gained my senses and dialed the number- off course it did not exist and I immediately called the security to search for this man in the building but he had made his sale and left immediately unnoticed by our extra efficient security. Also the price on the product cover was Rs 20. Post that the algorithm for responding to any salesperson or promoter as they say is-
a. Ask how did you enter the premises- answer will be usually exit gate or 1 of the side gates – they do their homework well and know the weak links in the complex.
b. Next ask did you check with the Secretary of the building – Since I am the Secretary currently I know whether they have done that or not otherwise send them to the then secretary’s flat to take the necessary permission – usually they would be chased out on the Secretary’s orders
c. Chase them out threatening that you will call the police/ Shout at the Security in vain
d. Whatever happens- never ever buy anything and close the door as fast as possible. When calling up the Security or Secretary- close the door – more often than not they will escape by the time you re-open the door.
On another occasion one salesman sold an air freshener for Rs 300 (at more than double the price of an ordinary one) saying that it is made by orphans and will even kill pests. Actually it was some Chinese stuff imported by some local unknown agency and was plain air freshener with no actives that kill or chase mosquitoes
12. Door to Door Jeweler-The con men who come to your door to clean up your jewelry or brass/ copper items. This happened to my Mom. One such guy came and she gave a brass item for polishing. This man suddenly grabbed at my mom’s chain and said he would clean that for her. Luckily my mom acted immediately, and chased him away.
Googled for beggar industry and found the following interesting links that estimate the size of the industry which is not taxed by the government. May be one of these days the governments will find a way to make these beggars file tax returns or worse make the giver pay a percentage of the 50 p or Re 1 coin that you hand over so thoughtfully or rather thoughtlessly to the maimed beggar at the traffic signal.