The Freudian Slumdog-Soothsayer

The art of Begging.

To thee, I must confess, this weird interest of mine has just become an obsession. I have asked people around me for help. But they only seem to say 'Boy, you're a sadist!' or 'That's so cruel!' or 'Kaam-dhanda nai hai terku?' - that last one is a Hyderabadi friend, so the accent is perhaps understandable. But no one seems to pay enough interest to the various beggars around the country and the different styles they adopt.

Most of the beggars in the country are poor, as it usually goes with the formula 'I don't have money, so I will browbeat you to give me some money until you break down with guilt.' But that doesn't seem to work in our country anymore. Being irreversibly poor just doesn't qualify. You have to have that extra 'thing' to score big money. Confused? Let me share how.


Yesterday I was walking down the Theatre Road, on my way back from the US consulate. I was happy, as I just got my visa and passport back. I was finally going to start my graduate studies! I was feeling very happy about it and so I dreamily put on my earphones. While I've stopped listening to music on-the-go with earphones on (which was such a rage in high school), I wished to listen to some triumphant music while I walk down the road at this joyous moment.

To feed my pretentious ambitions, I put on the famous Space Odyssey soundtrack waltz piece - The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II - and stuffed the earphones into my ear. I have music ranging from 'Munni badnam hui' to 'While my guitar gently weeps' and Beethoven to Hugh Laurie. One for all seasons, but only this piece of music seemed to serve the purpose at hand. But at the very first crescendo, I was stopped mid way by a very happy Sikh guy.

'Hello my friend!'


'What's up?' asked I, almost without pausing.
'We are from an NGO that..' he stopped mid-sentence as I held up my hand, quipping 'Not interested!'
But before walking away, I heard him say 'How about a magic trick instead?'

'How about a magic trick instead??' - that sounded unreal. Too many viewings of The Dark Knight, I suppose? I half-expected to turn around to face a putty-faced maniac holding up a pencil to my face and say 'Do you wanna know how I got these scars?'

'Wow.. umm.. I don't have much money' I told him.
'Do I look like a beggar-man?' said the happy Sikh reassuringly.
'No.. and there's that thing doing rounds on the internet, about never having found a Sikh man begging..' said I, absent mindedly.

He told me that he's a newcomer in the city, working for an NGO. He couldn't however furnish an ID. Then he said that his father is a world famous astrologer based in Amritsar, and he knows a bit of it too! Supposedly, he can also see someone else's future.

In this case, mine.

'Okay..' said I. He scribbled something on a piece of paper, folded it, and asked me to hold it in my left hand. Then mumble 'happiness' three times to it. And finally, blow out three times on that piece of paper. Okay, done. Now what?

'Now look into my eyes..' said he, '..last few days haven't been good for you, have they?'
I immediately shot an answer. The truth. 'Nope! I'm actually feeling quite good about myself!'
'Yeah, but my friend, you do believe you have been quite unlucky in life..?'
'On the contrary, I think I had it easy. Probably the luckiest bastard among my friends!' I was off to the US in a couple of days, with an offer to start working in the field of research I was keenly interested in, with a scientist who's the top of the ladder in the field. So forgive me, if I'm not complaining!

'You should stay away from a friend who's name starts with A, as he will always bring harm to you!'
I gave it quite a thought, ran through the 'list' in my head, but none of the names started with A!
'You must have a cousin whose name starts with S? Stay away..' warned the soothsayer again.
'You won't believe it, but I have no friend whose name starts with A or any cousin whose name starts with S!' I said. Those two letters are few of the most used letters in the world for names. I may have plentiful friends whose names begin with S and 80% of my cousins' names starting with an A, but surprisingly, none the way around.
He stared at me with his keen grey eyes for a long time, before wrapping it up with 'Good for you, sir!'

The whole while, he kept on recommending me the seventh thing and seventh month and seventh letter and the seventh day of the seventh week. Something about the number seven being lucky for me. Who did he think I was? Voldemort?! I intermittently thought of myself without a nose and shivered back to consciousness.

Soon, he asked me to think of a flower and choose a number from '6 7 8' (he wrote it down on a piece of paper, in that order). I said 'Chrysanthemum' and he looked unhappy. Then I chose the number '8' and his heart seemingly sank. 'After all those convincing about the number seven..' Mr. Freud here, must have thought.

'Sir, choose a common flower please?'
'Edelweiss..'
'Something else?'
'Camellia..'
'Something else?'
'Daffodil..'
'Something else?'
'DUDE!'

Even though I wanted to see where this was going, I was getting bored with the inquisition. 'What do you want to hear?' I asked.
'Some common flower, sir!'
'What, you want me to say Rose?'
He looked hopeful, with almost a smile on his face! He nodded slightly.
'No, can't do. I don't like Rose..' I declared.
'...' He had nothing to say.
'When is the magic happening?' I enquired, impatiently.

The happy Sardar beamed, 'Have a good day, sir' and left hastily. I opened the folded piece of paper, that I was made to blow air on, and read what was written within. 'Rose, 7' it read. I smiled and put on my Johann Strauss II again.

It just started to rain as I walked into the subway metro.
...
Had my sense of fashion persisted,  I'd have found myself on the streets!
India is the fabled land for beggars. At least that's what it used to be, before came more refugees and more criminals and thus, more beggars. And when simple chance and selective pressure got involved in the art of begging, they came up with exceptional and outrageous schemes to extort money from the people.

I dislike beggars and I've seen plenty. I understand not everyone is as privileged as many, but its a personal opinion. And maybe because I've always had bad experiences with them. But I like to indulge and check out the various ploys that beggars of modern India employ in order to squeeze out some money from a guilt-ridden customer.

There have been the woman in front of the Chennai Central railway station, whose husband and son have left on a train to some small town in UP that she managed to miss. All she would require is a substantial amount of money to buy a ticket to go home again. And a little extra to buy herself a bottle of softdrink. There have also been the leper, who miraculously responds to the patellar (knee) jerk reaction unless he has been faking it, of course! Kids, who take money from you at one side of the street and go buy drugs at the other corner of the same.

And so, what next? Eunuchs asking for exorbitant amount of money, in exchange for their blessings of an immortal libido? Yep, I've seen that too!

5 comments:

  1. Stay away from a friend whose name begins with A? :P
    I am glad he clarified that friend is a male :D

    I am sure enjoyed contradicting the man...he would have asked you for money had you only said Rose and 7, isn't it? :P Good thing you dislike the one flower that is seen almost everywhere.... A kid has convinced me to buy several bundles of it, on my way back home from college for the last six years now :))

    As always, this was a fun read. I really hope you keep blogging, even when you're in that far away land, doing all that important research work! ^_^

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  2. Destination InfinityJuly 2, 2014 at 2:38 AM

    Some NGOs I know are making HUGE profits. I think, I should quit whatever I am doing and start an non-profit(!) NGO soon :)

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  3. I must clarify that the friend with his/her name starting with A and a cousin, whose name starts with S is bound to be discovered sooner or later.. it's just that I'm taking them out of the equation of 'getting rid of' as I'm just too fond pf them.. :) Thanks for liking this post Aniesha!
    Always give a poor kid food, instead of money - if you'd want my opinion! And about the keep writing advice, I will try my best..

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  4. Non-profit NGOs is the only way that should be.. what's ethical about a profitable social organization? NGOs shouldn't be confused with one's career.. so lemme fix my career first, rest of the life would certainly pass in philanthropy, dipped with social responsibility! :)

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