I stood at the juice shop. I ordered some mango juice for myself. I was looking forward to the rich cool pulp skidding down my throat like it was some huge water slide in an amusement park. Some vivid imagination, eh? I waited. The shopkeeper was still finishing up his morning prayers (it’s a common sight in India…they start their day and their business with prayers) so I was aware of my wait. I sat down. Someone I knew from work stood next to me. He’s German, I think. I have seen him around but I haven’t known him. I smiled. He didn’t smile back.
“That’s rude!” – I thought to myself.
A woman dressed in rags walked to us. Her clothes, her ruffled hair, her sorry state, her pleading eyes – she was a beggar (another common sight in India, unfortunately). She begged for money. She pleaded when I said I cannot offer her money (I have my reasons…most beggars have to beg and give away the collected money to their superior – of course, another beggar! It’s a huge racket in India and it’s saddening to see all of it around me. It’s saddening to be aware of reality!).
I looked away with a heavy heart…Many thoughts ran through my mind.
“They didn’t choose to be what they are.”
“Asking for something…Begging…It is the toughest thing to do.”
I remembered something someone had told me long back.
Shame kills a man more effectively than arms ever can.
I cried in my heart. I wanted to help. But I couldn’t. Or could I? I definitely should. But we are only encouraging the racket by giving them money (I am aware that people kidnap children, disable them purposely and then force them to beg on the streets – disability attracts sympathy and sympathy gains monetary support! The only way to stop the racket from spreading was to stop encouraging beggars…). But the racket was a bigger picture, a bigger problem. How could I see a life suffer like this when I dreamt of enjoying my mango juice? I was torn. I had to do something. But what? I prayed. I always do. It is one of those few moments when I wish and hope that God exists and that he listens to me.
The shopkeeper saw the beggar. He shooed her away.
I cringed at the sight. I asked him to not be so rude to them.
“I run a business madam. People won’t step into my shop if I encourage beggars here.”
I saw his point but I wished he wasn’t right. In either case, being rude to them was not the right thing.
Two glasses of orange juice were placed on the counter. The German guy picked up both. He walked out of the shop. He stood. He searched a bit. He called out to the beggar. He offered her a glass. He walked back into the shop with his glass and sat there sipping.
I had never felt so ashamed in my life until that moment. I felt cheap and belittled in front of his huge heart.
Why hadn’t I thought of it?
I smiled at him, acknowledging what he had done, my heart full of love and gratitude. He didn’t smile back.
This time, I didn’t care! I smiled anyway…