Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Beggars: Here. There. Everywhere ..................They are omnipresent and the menace of begging is simply becoming unbearable, writes SALMAN NIZAMI

By: Salman nizami

This manifold inflow of outside beggars has increased their population in Kashmir. From big streets to pavements, from zebra crossing to midway paths, from empty lanes to traffic-jammed roads, beggars have acquired omnipresence in Kashmir. Beggary once conjured up images of old figures in rags, a passé for the present situation. Now the camera captures a different view, beggars too have undergone what we call a technological revolution. They are today before us as young women, young girls, small children and their new born babies too are invited to have the feast. Just wait for a few moments on a roadside and you are surrounded by beggars. And every time you turn against them, their prayers suddenly change into bestial expressions. They curse you as if you only earn for them. They have even changed their lifestyle. They speak Kashmiri (though in broken syllables), they wear burqas, kamez shalwar, phiran - everything to resemble and adjust to our surroundings.
And our local beggars, who have transferred themselves from these busy streets to hold their positions on the stairs of our Holy Shrines, their presence has twisted the stairs in a new way, it seems as if the stairs are embroidered. At the shrine of Makhdoom Sahib, I am reminded of a non local beggar, who in my opinion should be enlisted in the Guinness book of world records. His skill of beggary has an artistic taste, worth praising (or the other way worth cursing). Well dressed, with a little beard, supported by crutches (pretending as if he is disabled), and for this pitiable appearance, he calls for a sea of sympathy from the deep core of human hearts. And when the dusk spreads its arms, he blows his cover in that darkness. For a common being like me, a single rupee holds value but for these birds in rags, money has no value, it scatters upon their feet by their single yell. They do not have to stretch their muscles; they have tricks up their sleeves for gaining compliance. They begin with a deep request— ‘Kuch poise dena’ and when you put your hand in your pocket, the request escalates to a large amount, ‘tees challis dena, ab pachas dena’, applying the foot-in-the-door technique. And where it fails to work they ingratiate through the door-in-face technique:
‘Didi? Behanji? Kapda Hai? Chawal Hai? Suin Hai? Roti Hai? Phir Kuch Paise Dena?’
To add more spice to their art, I am remembered of an incident of an old beggar who frequently visits our locality (may be yours, too). He sings all the known children’s English rhymes at every doorstep (as if he had been a student of pre primary department of some Oxford University but had unfortunately left his schooling only in kindergarten). He was one day overheard taunting the masons at work and praising his art. Our religion says, “It is a sin to refrain from giving alms to poor and needy but he is a sinner who gives to a healthy and young”. Begging is not a crime. Beggars are no criminals. But our frustration has grimed the picture. Unemployment here is widespread. While the non local beggars are cursed for being uninvited guests, the locals are idols of falsehood. Found mostly at Makhdoom Sahib shrine, the person begging is no poverty line beggar but hails from a high caste, or what we call as from a Khandani background, who has spend his 20-25 years in the service of beggary. The way he behaves seems as if he is mentally in poor health but the next time when you see him well dressed, perfume sprinkled in a religious gathering as a perfect gentleman, don’t get confused in comparing and contrasting the two faces, they both are one. This is no mocking or ridiculing this class, maybe there is a solid, concrete reason behind these sudden beggars or other beggars of the false kind. But maybe there is no reason at all—getting money through idle living has only encouraged them for more begging. Dissatisfaction is a known element of human nature. Sir Edward Dyer writes (“In praise of a contented mind”):Some have too much, yet still do crave: I little have and seek no more. They are but poor, much they have, And I am rich with little store. They poor, I rich; they beg, I give; They lack, I leave; they pine, I live. Even after having everything, if we crave for more, what crime then beggars do if they beg, if they yell, if they cry, if they complain of their disdainful lives? We blame them for falsehood and dishonesty, for piquing through tricks; but have we ever peered inside our soul before putting them to question? Are we honest in our work? Are we sincere in our dealings? If not, we have no right to prove anyone guilty or hang the necks by the noose of corruption. In this godforsaken place where bureaucracy, nepotism, corruption, deception, treachery etc are the daily affairs of the crowned heads, which verdict is dishonored if the underprivileged community subsists through falsehood? Whatever be the content, the issue finally ends as usual: “Begging is a menace”. The progress of a nation should not be counted by its technological development, but in terms of the number of the beggars it lullabies. More beggars, less progress; less beggars, more progress. If a nation has to tower in development, it should first work for the development of its own people and not that it should first have the thoughts to land on the moon at the running cost of its people. I cannot say beggary can be completely erased, because as long as the terms ‘poverty’ and ‘below poverty line’ exist, so long will beggary also exist. But we can, at least make efforts to minimize its multiple growth, apart from on and off discussing the Kashmir politics.
Beggary which we consider today as a menace was long back a group of people upon whom hanged the humane clove of sympathy like a cool hand on a fevered brow. But now the distortion it has taken in itself cannot end with the clichés like people have changed, the atmosphere is changed, human nature has changed, or the times have changed. But if anything has changed that is the beggary itself. Earlier sympathy shadowed this community. One could clearly read the miserable tale embossed on the wrinkles of their forehead, but today they state their CV before you, following their sugary prayers, and then the chestnut, “if you refuse to give today, remember one day will come when you will lament but the time would have gone a thousand miles away from you”. To remain dinged to your sanity in this dilemma is even aching than to bang your head against a brick wall. Flustered in this rapid networking of beggary, we can publish articles, pamphlets, journals, letters, novels, books, hold debates, seminars on the issue but can we ever put a final full stop to beggary in action? William Shakespeare in (King John):Well, whiles I am a beggar, I will rail, And say there is no sin, but to be rich; And, being rich, my virtue then shall be, To say there is no vice, but beggary.

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