Technically, beggars and the needy are two different people. A beggar might not be needy; conversely, the needy might never beg.
It is obvious that being needy is a ‘condition’ and begging is a ‘profession.’ A professional beggar is the one who will make sure he ‘appears’ to be needy. We have heard stories of the same person (beggar) assuming multiple roles (or personalities) on different days, in order to ensure the effectiveness of his/her camouflage.
My theory is that the beggars cannot successfully achieve their purpose unless they have convinced us that they are deserving of our charity money. Dirtied, torn up clothes; a pitiable expression — usually of a starving person — accompanied by a feeble, beseeching tone etc.; the pro knows the tricks of the trade well.
Their success lies in touching the right cord: Outside a hospital, trust them to say all sorts of prayers for the health of you and your loved ones. By the way, I always give in whenever I find one sending good wishes to my daughter. And, yes, they’d say all these nice things only when she is with me. At other times and places, I have even been wished for a happy married life (“Allah jori salamat rakhay!”) or about being bestowed with children.
They are little psychoanalysts or what? I wonder, each time I realise how good they are at reading your mind at a given moment or guessing your problems and even your latent desires. The faint-hearted among you would melt easily and slip more than a few coins into their bowl. Well, I said ‘coins’ but basically no beggar settles for less than a 10-rupee note.
Their bravura is unmistakable. Recently, I was out in the street and a eunuch came up to me and asked me to give her Rs500. “For what?” I was shocked. “Because you cross this street every day but I never nagged you before. This is my eidi!”
If you try to shun the beggar, they will mumble the most spiteful of things for you, sometimes striking horror in your mind.
The pros keep adopting new ways. There are those you run into at a traffic signal or close to a marketplace; they usually have a small stock of everyday things and will coerce you to buy from them — a matchbox or ball point pen, maybe — because they are needy, and they aren’t begging.
The guy with the wiper in his hand leaps at your car’s wind shield, forcing his unsolicited help on you.
At times, you meet a fairly well-dressed, middle-class couple whose bike is parked at a CNG station, requesting you to help them as their valuables were snatched on the way.
I have grown immune to the bewitching expressions of an old beggar who sits on the pavement, a little before the signal, with his stick holding together a bunch of colourful balloons which helps him in getting spotted from a distance while he stretches his legs in an elderly fashion. He is so skilful that, across the dazzling headlights of a car that is coming down the road, he would look right into your eyes and almost convince you of his pitiable state.
The female beggars often have it easier. Shabbily dressed, and smelling and sweating badly, they are found forcing a dangling infant to their breasts. They prefer to speak less and communicate more. And you are left to presume that no tragedy can afflict a mother more than burning the suckling under scorching sun.
My personal favourite are the eunuchs. I pay them because they cheer me, be it with their false praise (which, however, sounds so real) or their natural appeal to social injustice. Of course none of us is human enough to let them be of any use; their need is genuine. Their mild flirt, their genuine respect for the privileges that normal people have, their candid understanding of situations (they can literally sniff if the air inside the car is tense) and their open heart with which they let us go, without cursing, just with a false promise that they would be paid next time, are characteristics that are to be found in no other kind.
There are also full-time, part-time and seasonal beggars. The ‘respectable’ beggar is full-time, as we find him at the same place every day and night (for few weeks until he has squeezed enough from all of us); the aged man with piercing eyes and colourful balloons only shows up after afternoon; and a whole class of seasonal beggars comprised of elderly, widowed, orphaned, and sickly emerge in the month of Ramzan.