My cousin and daresay, a person who knows his ‘words’ more than me has graciously decided to provide my blog with one of his short stories. Split in two parts, the same shall be published. All you readers are requested to read the same, and provide him with your valuable feedback in terms of content, style and narrative.
The auto-rickshaw had stopped at the signal, promptly enough, in response to the light turning red. Of course, being in India, we were well within our rights to stop a few feet beyond the stop line and it was something everyone took advantage of.
My friends and I were on our way to lunch at a new restaurant, as we had heard great things about it. Good food, swanky interiors, courteous staff and a wide variety of aperitifs and digestifs too. It was going to be a good Saturday afternoon. We were going to do something we knew all too well and associated quite firmly with the weekend – Indulge. Very justifiable considering it offered the perfect solace from the 40 hours of skull drudgery we put in every week making our “livelihood”. Our conversations revolved around the usual topics: Stock markets, businesses, hierarchical changes in big corporations, sports, movies and a fair amount of gossip.
Vicky was in the middle of a particularly juicy narrative about a kitschy Bollywood movie he had the misfortune of watching, when we were interrupted by a young boy who appeared right next to our auto-rickshaw. He was begging for alms, a sight not uncommon in India, particularly in and around neighborhoods where people went to spend their money for leisure.
The boy evoked the appropriate amount of sympathy in me. I asked him his name while I reached around to my back pocket. “Jishu” he replied quietly. I had nearly pulled out my wallet when Rakesh stopped me. “Don’t encourage this stuff man” he said
“It’s all part of a big racket”. He then went on to recount an article and a movie he had seen about this phenomenon. “These guys are just a small part of the entire picture” he said “They are just the lowest rung of a ladder and this pathetic form that you see is just a costume that they don for the express purpose of cheating us out of our money. These people infest strategic parts of the city from morning till evening, squatting and not doing anything particularly productive AND they get paid for it. Didn’t you see that movie?”
The movie he spoke of was one that I had watched as well. It showed a complex network and a well set hierarchy behind the “enterprise” that begging had become in India. The children, women carrying babies and disabled people we see on the street, each reported to a person who took most of the alms from them. The pathetic creatures we saw on the street were beaten down, tormented and tortured if they did not make the specific amount of money that their “supervisor” set as their target. Worse still, a supervisor could maim and mutilate a beggar when he felt that the beggar’s frail frame and stained, torn clothes were not enough to get people to sympathize and give their money away. Once the supervisor got his cut, he in turn gave nearly all of it to a faceless person who sat in a plush house doing none of the work, winning all the profits and losing all of his conscience. All these beggars got was a chance to watch a movie or eat a decent meal once in a while, if the supervisor/evil overlord felt ever so inclined.
It was quite a conundrum I was in as I pondered if I was making a completely immoral person richer. What I kept coming back to was that, his cut aside, this child would still get something. Besides, the 5 or so Rupees that I was going to shell out made no difference to me whatsoever, but the one rupee this child may get out of it certainly made a difference to him. As I lamented over all of this, the cranking of the auto-rickshaw’s engine interrupted my thoughts and almost immediately, we were off. Signals stay red only for so long. It was too late and in a few minutes I had forgotten about Jishu and by extension, the entire incident.
<< PART 2 >>