Few people if that, in the third world are unfamiliar with the arts and bane of begging. It is rampant everywhere in our society from traffic signals to governmental offices where in India it is referred to as baksheesh and here in Pakistan as sweet little kancha. Although westerners when they arrive at our shores and travel our roads are bewildered and feel the pain of humanities suffering watching young and old alike begging for all sorts of things, little do they realize that they are not dealing with people who are actually poor, but people who are inherently lazy and not interested in working for their income at all.
I too was once among the sufferers, amongst those who chose to avert their gaze away from a bandaged face asking for money tapping at your window while seemingly in great pain due to the wounds tied up in gauze. The light of how naive and foolish my thought was dawned on me with an early morning drive to an arranged cricket match one day, when I saw scores of these beggars arriving in a proper van, wearing normal clothes which they hurriedly discarded to my fury for rags and speedily painted burn victim and other kinds of makeup on each other to rush to their assigned spots.
Even then, I chose to ignore this spectacle I had witnessed until one day outside perhaps one of the largest mosques in the city, I requested an old woman who had stood at the gate for years to step a few steps to the side so she would not be pushed by the out coming throng. She responded by screaming to me that I was a filthy SOB for saying this, as she had paid over 400,000 rupees for this spot she had purchased at the gate. It was at this point that I walked away mouth open and brain pounding at what had just been said to me. Later on, I sat down with one of these beggars on the roadside and learnt things which were almost hilarious.
He assured me that begging was not a way of charity or asking for money, but since this is the 21st century, it had turned into an art of conning. Not the poor, the kidnapped, the taken away from home and then had their legs cut off kind of scenario we are made to believe in movies like Slumdog; but the actual craft of appealing to a persons charitable side by donning various forms and disguises handed down by generations of teachers. As I sat their listening, he explained to me the various techniques and methods in rage among beggars today and how they are employed in different parts of Karachi. Since then, I have noticed what he said being true in plain sight as I travel around the city on various occasions. So without further delay, let me introduce you to these devices of entrepreneurship.
a) Rose children
Mostly employed in the posh areas and outside major bridges, leading them are children with roses, who are selected for their cuteness from the begging clans (that’s what they call themselves) and given 2 Rs. roses in single plastic wrap to sell to us folk for 20 or 30 Rs, saying things like, “Aap pe kitna acha laga ge, bhabi ko aaj kush kar den” etc, etc.
b) Spilt Wares
A new and creative way of fleecing is a man sitting bear the start of an underpass or close to the end of an overpass with a pail of edibles such as chickpeas or sugarcane cubes in the summer months, half spilt by his side picking them up with dejected eyes so as to declare that he is a hard worker and that he has just spilt his wares, quick to ask for the months ration as soon as you stop that shiny vehicle.
c) Burn victims and Joint-less Individuals
Get a little burn, rub a little dirt on your face, then smear it with the yellow liquid put it in place over an eye with a filthy looking bandage, you get the picture? The missing hands illusion is a cracker though, with careful practice the hand is actually folded inside the sleeve so what we hurriedly avert our eyes from is not the stump but the elbow, with some makeup on. They are employed randomly across the city, wherever the major intersections are found.
d) Sadhu or Malangs
Since Sufism is experiencing a revival in our arts and culture as well as in drawing room discussion of those with the cash, this technique is well employed by beggars as well usually with a weird looking man in a green or brown chogha roaming clutchign a bowl full of beads and other paraphernalia, a mystic of the roads to separate your wallet from your spirit. Excessively apparent near shopping centers.
e) The Strongman Approach
Yes, these days beggars often come with bhailog like stances and demands, another genre adapted speedily from Hindi flicks by our street conmen with major success. As soon as a person or car stops they approach bang the window and shout “De” in your face when you roll your screen down with trembling hands; as if to implore you to part with some money or part with your watch.
Let me at this juncture, point out the fact that I am doing this only to educate and open the eyes of my fellow men and women who are exemplary in giving their charity but fail to realize that even if their spirit is right they are actually giving food to a monster which does not actually need it. Thus, beggary is growing rampantly and why should it not? Some of the beggars have made so much money that they have their own fleet of mini buses or rickshaws roaming this city but will still not stop begging. Why should they? When there are fools like us out there who give them money to rid, our brains for the time being of the guilt that comes with success in our country. Are we as successful as them though, is the question that troubles me now because if one thinks about it a business which multiplies with the worsening times and requires almost zero capital investment, seems a hell of an idea to me. I know, I know, I’m being cruel right? They have to give up their respect right? Well, think about what respect means next time you hand out that hundred rupee note to a man that is probably, if not certainly richer than you right now. Perhaps then you can understand the smile that lights up his face.
As published in the Satuday post