MY mother has always taught me to give. Growing up, I would go with her to the market and help her carry her shopping. If she spotted a beggar on the way, she would give him some money, enough to buy a glass of teh tarik and roti canai.
Now when I go shopping on my own, I try to emulate her. I will give a little cash to beggars especially those who are crippled, even though I hear stories about them supposedly working for a syndicated group of people.
You see, it’s not easy to tell who are real beggars and who are not. So I give without having a second thought about the matter.
Going to a poor country, like India for instance, I was prepared to give. However, before we left for India, we were given a pep talk on what to do and what not to do in that country. One piece of advice that was expected was that we must never ever give anything to beggars there. The reason is simple. If you gave a beggar some money or food, there would be many, many more coming up to you and demanding the same.
In New Delhi, there were beggars everywhere... in the streets, shopping malls, the market, you name it.
Once, at a traffic light, our van was surrounded by beggars with open palms. We signalled that we had nothing to give. One girl saw that I was munching a cracker and pointed at it. She was obviously hungry.
I only had two pieces left in my hand, so I gave them to her through a small gap in the van window. She grabbed them and ran away. I wished I had more to give. Since we were in a van, the other beggars didn’t come to us.
Syndicated or otherwise, beggars look the same and one cannot tell the difference. However, there have been times when a little help can be most rewarding, for both the giver and the receiver that is.
In Kathmandu, Nepal, three of us were walking along a road when a child of about 8, approached us and asked for money. My friend Zul immediately opened his wallet but realised he had no small change.
“Juice, sir,” said the boy.
“You want me to buy you juice?” asked Zul.
“Yes, sir,” said the boy.
“Two juices, sir,” echoed his younger brother, who joined us.
We went to a nearby cafe. The two kids got very excited and pointed to the drinks in the refrigerator. The shopkeeper took out two orange juices but the boys protested.
“Pepsi,” said the elder brother. The shopkeeper was not amused and told them something in the local lingo. But the two boys kept protesting.
I intervened. “Did they ask for Pepsi? I think they want Pepsi, so give them Pepsi,” I instructed the shopkeeper who reluctantly took out two bottles of Pepsi and handed them over to the boys.
Then the elder boy approached the glass shelves where food was kept. There were several types of pies, pastries and cakes but he pointed at a muffin. The muffin was the cheapest item.
“You want this?” asked Murshid.
“Two, sir,” echoed the younger brother excitedly.
We asked the shopkeeper to hand them two muffins. Their young faces lighted up immediately as they held what was probably their meal for the day.
As we paid the shopkeeper, the older boy asked for our names and where we were from. He also politely introduced himself and his younger brother. Then he popped the question: “Sir, are you going to be here tomorrow?”
Unfortunately, we were leaving that same evening but we promised that if we ever came to Kathmandu again, we would look for them. They nodded, shook our hands and said thank you.
As we walked back to the hotel, we were very quiet. “I feel so sad for them,” said Zul.
Indeed, we were very touched by their simple demands and kind gestures and we felt good to have been able to cheer up their lives that day. We wished we had met them earlier so that we could have fed them throughout our stay.