Beggars, fake priests, and kids - oh my
Jan 6, 2016
|We don't want to deal in cliche or overstatement, but a stroll on a city street in just about any city in India offers a glimpse of the challenge visitors have in this country. When shops and businesses are open, the crowds are tremendous. Sidewalks are business spaces, so you find yourself walking in the street, dodging tuk tuks, motorcycles, cows, cars and buses. Horns blare constantly. Trash and waste are underfoot. Stray dogs are in epidemic numbers. Open sewers are common in old parts of town. Holes and hazards abound, liability lawsuits back home, part of the stroll here.
Shop keepers will call good morning or welcome, then ask you to see their shop, one after another after another and another. Shoe shine boys will approach one after another, as well, the more aggressive following you for half a block.
Poverty drives some to beg. A legless man, a woman carrying a baby, kids who tag along chanting ten rupees ten rupies ten rupees. Climbing stairs at a station, a girl will tug at your pant leg. If you're in a vehicle, a forlorn woman will tap your window with her free hand extended.
In holy places such as Pushkar, you may be approached by men dressed as priests or monks. Many are fakes, guys who look the part as a facade for begging.
In Pushkar, Jim was approached by a fellow dressed as a holy man. Money, money, he droned. He came right next to Jim and waved his cup, droning money, money. Jim did not reply or look. Money, money. Jim shook his head no. The fellow hit Jim on the shoulder with his cup and walked away.
We frankly do our best to ignore all this. We have been told that giving to beggars does not help in the long run. A child needs to be encouraged to go to school, not beg, for example. But it is hard.
On the other hand, the better off are the vast majority. Kids here are like kids anywhere, shy, cute, and friendly. Little ones wave, say hello, and ask in English how are you. If you ask how they are, you realise their only English is how are you.
Teens and young adults will ask if they can have their pictures taken with you. You are exotic or a curiosity. Many stare at you.
Everywhere people are helpful. We looked confused in the subway, and a young man pointed out the right platform. A shopkeeper left his business to walk us to a cash machine, even though we would not be customers. Courtesy is everywhere, as well, along with the big city pushing and shoving.
Patience and tolerance are paramount. The Indian people, incredibly diverse in religion, caste, education, color, and income, are patient and tolerant of one another and of us visitors. We try to be the same way.