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Asking without begging

During travels abroad, one chances upon the harsh underside of affluent nations. The subtle signs of penury are manifest in a few pockets and the needy come up with unusual pleas. Once in downtown Chicago, I noticed a young woman seated all by herself on a pavement, calmly reading a book while an occasional passer-by would drop a coin into the donation-box before her. A placard propped up near her read, “I’m not a bad girl, you know. I only made bad decisions!”

Such a candid display of her “autobiography in a nutshell” carried the right kind of emotional appeal as she seemed to earn more money than another man of the same ilk, running around with his collection box from one car window to another at the traffic signal, adjoining the pavement. Bare-bodied except for a pair of shorts, this man had his torso painted in bold black letters, “Help me buy my fare to hometown!” It didn’t elicit much response from the drivers or passengers. Maybe, they were not in a mood to encourage a frivolous demand.

The entire stretch of that particular pavement was probably reserved for charity-seekers because further down, a full orchestra by a group of students played with great enthusiasm before a rapt audience. Here too a prominent signboard declared, “The deadline for fee payment is tomorrow!”

Now, if there’s one subject that never fails to strike a chord with the commoner, it must be education because at the end of each 10-minute performance, the bystanders would clap and contribute generously before moving on. Next, the boys would take time tuning up their instruments while waiting for the next batch of pedestrians to assemble before them to start once again.

It was quite obvious that these down-and-outers were going through a rough patch and wanted some contribution from the public to tide over their monetary problems.

In a New York subway station, I came across a well-dressed woman in a shawl and a bonnet, carrying a huge basket, as though she was on her way to a picnic. In her palms, she was holding a wad of one-dollar bills. Quietly, she sidled up to my husband and asked, “Do you have some change, sir? One dollar?”

“Wait, let me check,” said my husband and took out his wallet. While he was searching for small change, the woman picked a one-dollar bill daintily from the row of notes in the well-exposed main compartment of the wallet and cooed, “Thank you, sir! That’s all I wanted.” For a moment, we were confused. Later, it dawned on us that her request for change actually meant donation and not coins in exchange of the notes she had. All she wanted was nothing but just a one-dollar bill to add to the stash in her hand. Well, I suppose, beggars can be choosers too in this part of the world.

saraswathi100@yahoo.com


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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 9:27:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/asking-without-begging/article35651048.ece

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