MIGUEL de Cervantes' famous quote comes to mind as I begin to write on this topic -- "Never stand begging for what you have the power to earn".
We must have all come across people who can be cynical, with the likes of me who dismiss and disregard beggars as nuisance. I am one of those who find most of them a social menace.
Imagine this ... we are seated in a plush restaurant and waiting to be served, when an old beggar woman strolls in with a bowl in one hand and a tattered sling bag across her bosom.
Are we obliged to offer money or food, and do we deserve condemnation if we don't?
If the seeker is really old, frail and weak, then fine, I sympathise. But many don't fit that bill.
While I agree that there are genuine cases of the weak and the physically-challenged forced to the streets by circumstances, there are yet those for whom begging is a choice.
I want to share my experiences and confrontations with so-called beggars who come in various guises.
We have the "holy men" dressed in all-white or saffron asking for alms in exchange for "gifts".
We know that these people belong to some organisation but no religion encourages begging as a vocation, so you are often caught in a moral dilemma; to give or not to give.
Then we have the refugees stationed conspicuously at busy spots such as night markets and bus terminals, mostly women with children (and we don't even know if they are theirs) seeking alms. Again, the women are able-bodied and if they so wished, they could be eking out a living in a noble manner.
We also have the those who approach you with the most unthinkable sob stories on how they had lost their wallet and needed money for food and to get home. These are the BIDs (beggars in disguise), who can, as I found out in Bangsar Village very recently, be very well-dressed, too.
I remember an occasion when I was having a meal in a restaurant in Brickfields. In walked a man selling some items. I had seen him and others like him before at the restaurant and I thought I had a right to refute his spiel if I was not up to buying or donating.
This guy got mad and walked away hurling curses at me, something to the effect that the food I consume would not be legitimate as I had rejected him.
I was disturbed and furious but there wasn't anything I could do; this guy had found a victim a few tables away.
I have seen a lady, diminutive and well-hunched, selling lottery tickets in that vicinity for over two decades now. She must easily be past 80, and I was told she supported herself entirely from the commission she earned.
I admire her diligence and although I am not a habitual buyer of lottery tickets, I had never minded spending a few notes on the tickets, not for the lottery's sake but for the sake of the old woman, who knew what dignity meant.
I am a firm believer that if there is a will, there will be a way and we all have choices in life.
Let me end as I started, with a quote, this time from William Jennings Bryan: "Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved."