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     Volume 4 Issue 39 | March 25, 2005 |

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The Taming
of the


As you approach the red lights at Shahbagh crossing you can spot him limping on a crutch moving from car to cng-driven vehicle to car, his hand outstretched, intermittently, mumbling something; a band of yellow stain on his once-white prayer cap marking the trickles of sweat he has to encounter in his day.

With new traffic lights in place, he knows how much time he has and how many vehicles he can approach. Getting financial assistance from donors has become routine for him, essential too; so much so that he expects to be awarded each time, almost as a right.

Since I use the crossing quite regularly he has come to recognise me. Once or twice I did give him something. He was happy, gave a long open-palm salaam and limped off gratified.

On another occasion I thought it better to hand over the change I had to a lady beggar with a child on her lap; the months-old child clinging on to the mom swayed my choice.

I realised my irreproachable action annoyed our man only when he hobbled up to me to beg for some alms, and was denied. Since I had no more change I told him I had none. He quickly changed his position from the obliged receiver of donation to an apparently rightful owner of my money.

He began by saying that I have failed to discern the imposter (meaning the lady) from the genuine claimant which he is. The gratefulness he expressed on a previous occasion had disappeared completely. He was almost unrecognisable.

It annoyed me that he should tell me to whom and how I should, if indeed I did, give away the change that I can spare. So I kept quiet, looked straight ahead and waited for the lights to change. He kept on the tirade. That was his right. This was his territory. Perhaps he even had the protection of the police. He is in his locality a VVIP.

From then on as I approach the crossing I hope for the green lights so that I can pass unperturbed. But sometimes the lights are unkind and I have to stop. Inevitably, the beggar man will wobble towards me and keep on reminding to whom and how I should give charitable donations. He was doing my thinking.

That was it. I could not handle this along any longer. I decided to bring up the matter with some friends. I wanted to find out how they tackle similar situations. In fact, I found one or two who use the same crossing and have been giving the limping beggar money on a regular basis. This made me feel better and we convened the meeting at my place.

The next time he confronted me at the red lights with his usual invectives I felt like vengeance and rolled down the glass to tell him about the discussion I am having with some of his patrons. He was fuming; how could I arrange a conference on his fate and his future without informing him. He told me in as many words that I should have had some respect for his image around the place.

At the group meeting the disposition of the participants ranged from disturbed to angry. They mentioned several things about the beggar that even I did not know. Despite my being upset with him for his unprovoked and uncalled for behaviour I had some sympathy reserved for him.

Someone said he was very brash with his fellow beggars at the crossing. Someone saw him terrorising others for venturing on to his beat. Someone saw him running at a lady beggar with a child in a threatening manner. 'A beggar dictator, if that is appropriate,' went on someone else. The meeting unanimously decided he must be given the message behave or else no more aid, and that we decide whom we should give our money to.

The next time I saw him he was chatting amicably with another beggar. As I passed by the green light he greeted the lady beggar loud enough for me to hear. I spotted the twinkle in his eyes and the expression on his face, 'At least give me something now'. Needless to say, the crossing has become more bearable for all of us.

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