Thursday, October 19, 2006

Where have all the beggars gone?

Uh, well, I know I should actually be asking the Central Bank or Ministry of Poverty Alleviation or whatever, but I was personally facing this question last week as I cruised the blazing tarmacs of Maradana under a blistering midday sun looking for these beings of legend because of a little plan I had to “Do good” (Further embarrassing details below- )

You hear people griping about the economy, the cost of living, the sheer exhausting poverty of this third world city we live in – and you’d think logically that the number of destitute people (ok ok Financially Challenged Fellow Citizens) would be an excellent indication of the levels to which we have sunk , but goodness, have you noticed there just aren’t any when you need them! Deserving looking ones I mean, not those unshaven intense looking ones with bloodshot eyes who reek of alcohol, and twitch suspiciously when they talk– I’m talking about real deserving honest-to-God cases of serious “Have.Not.”

Now why, you may ask, would Al, actually “need” beggars? Well, the truth is I’ve been well brought up on some serious Buddhist theory and occasionally when someone close to me conks off, or when I go through some narrow scrape, a prickle of unease nags at my conscience: a positive inclination to go fourth and do something “meritorious” so to speak.

Since I personally hover delicately at the edge of lower middle class penury, large scale organized charity like saving herds of cows(!) or donating prime land for orphanages is beyond me, but I do pride myself on the occasional “Food- Packets- For-Hungry- Beggars” thing, duly arranged on Saturdays in auspicious quantities of 3,7,9 or 21 which hopefully will keep Saturn happy and keep me out of serious trouble for just a little bit longer( And I have given up trying to even begin to figure out how an entirely gaseous planet billions of miles away may possibly directly affect things like my education, my marriage and the sporadic bouts of eczema I suffer. I just accept it like death, taxes and server outages)

So, to cut the cackle, last Saturday found yours truly cruising slowly through the Dematagoda /Baseline/Maradana route in the cornea-frying noon sunlight with a “dicky” full of lunch packets, looking for tatty deserving looking beggars poor people who would kindly take these things without actually insulting me about it – yup, I was getting pretty desperate.

Trust me this is an excellent way to get sunstroke, migraine and a lot of *fishy* looks from the army. A fat woman on a rusty moped is odd. Same woman going really slowwwwly looking left and right, is just pushing it. You get my drift.

Well, the sad conclusion I came to last week (or the happy one, from the National Policy making point of view-) was that there just are not enough really deserving beggars in Colombo!

I mean, sure, under the Baseline flyover there were people blissfully sleeping it off in little happy bundles of rag and newspaper but I was too afraid to actually go and tweak them for lunch, since you never know what they could be sleeping off.

Three( 3) of the more coherent ones relieved me of the (by now really silly looking) rice packets (possibly for the resale value= one cigarette?)with condescending grunts and walked off insouciantly without so much as discussing the attendant blessings and fortunate afterlife that I was hoping would accrue to me as part of the bargain.

Two (2) people asked me for money and would not budge until I parted with cold hard cash and one of them mumbled something about the fifty (50!) buck note I had given him (eh ,did I hear that correct? 50 bux wasn’t enough? Raising cost of living ? but ,erh-these people didn’t actually DO anything , they just sat there- what kind of bills did they have to pay anyway?- )

Well , I admit I was here for a totally self centered and petty personal-gain reasons, so yes I would have liked a “bohoma isthuthy” even if “pinsiddhawechaawe” is now out of fashion, even “jolly decent of you,old gal " would have been ok, but these cool, nonchalant shrugs were kind of , how shall I put it, bloody annoying, sorry - rather discouraging, actually.

Finally in Maradana near the Police station , under some leafy trees I stumbled upon an endearing young old lady beggar with a really charismatic smile who along with her hubby (ok here I was assuming it was the hubby unless they were not married and just begging- in – sin-) at least bestowed gracious smiles upon me when I handed out the final packets – and yes, there was even a brief hands clasped moment too so I must bookmark that spot for future reference in case I need beggars again. (Alternatively, I think I will start practicing Tonglen, instead. At least it doesn’t involve making the long suffering STF uneasy)

But then it happened , near a Base line Road temple , at last , I came upon that One True beggar who finally made my whole Sunday worthwhile, a wonderful character of enduring fortitude, the memory of whom still brings tears to my eyes- a speech challenged ,shivering, gibbering octogenarian on a crutch who actually smiled widely and toothlessly and mumbled the old fashioned intonations I had wanted to hear, thanking me, blessing me, referring to my parents in a positive light, wishing me the best in life and the hereafter, (for eons actually) -perpetual, everlasting cosmic success and eternal beauty in return for a 50 buck packet of Kowloon Take Away’s Delishes Fish Curry Special .He sure knew the words and he sure made my Saturday, and although I bet he was as well fed as the rest, I guess he was one for keeping to traditions!

Well -that task completed finally, I rode back home, kind of glowing in the sunlight, not only because I felt I had done something worthwhile at last ,but also I did honestly feel that ,here at least on my track, there aren’t so many truly desperate people and things couldn’t really be that bad. Well, I wish anyway….

The author lives in Wellampitiya with 5 cats named: Patchy, Scratchy, Serious, Curious and Mantal.
And yes, she rides a moped.


Anonymous said...

I had that same problem in Nugegoda last year. I just could not find a single begger when I needed one!!! Darn!

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

They've all come here to London!

Anonymous said...

Maradana is predominantly a Muslim area, and Muslims are currently fasting until next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Not sure if beggars fast, or if the beggars in Maradana are predominantly Muslim, but this may explain why it was difficult to find people looking for lunches!

ravana said...

Saw this article published in the WOW magazine today. Did they ask your permission? I've heard of papers using blog posts without permission, hence the question.

Mahisha said...

... and any reason why they your blogspot link was not mentioned this time?

al juhara said...

my friends : thanks so much for your comments and the alerts! yup DM has an agreement with me about this :-)so its ok.
but that was fun because i did not know they had published it till someone told me- its a great feeling to be in print at last :-)
think they forgot the link :-(

ravana said...

Hey Al,

Don't you think it would be a good idea to ask the mainstream media (i.e. in your case the Daily Mirror) to publish a link to your blog (or to when they run an article yuo've written? I don't mean to sound presumptious, but it's just that some of us have been wondering how to take some of the really good content and discussions we get on the blogs to a wider audience and linking the blog community to the mainstream media was one suggested strategy.

What do you think?

al juhara said...

its a good idea indeed. In fact I did ask them first time and hoped they would continue - they seem to have forgotton- so I shall bascially remind them a few times more:-)

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