Mumbai is a city with attitude, and I am talking serious attitude…..right from Bollywood stars to the middle class person to the little street urchins (that add to the beautification of the city – don’t; mind the sarcasm). When I am out and about, I am always expecting some kind of attitude or another from the Mumbaikers, be it rich, middle class, or the poor folk. It’s just a given when you live in a city, such as Mumbai.
On Sunday, I went for a casual walk to Carter Road, a lovely promenade in Bandra West. I saw this sweet little bigger girl peering into a shop window, probably hungry or greedy, trying to earn her wages so that she could exchange it for food when she got home to her parents (who were also beggars). I really felt sorry for the little one and, although my usual tendency is to walk past beggars (because how many beggars can you feed?), I decided to give her a packet of biscuits that I usually carry for the stray dogs. Just so you know, as an animal lover, I am always carrying biscuits for the city’s innumerable dogs. I don’t like giving money to beggars as I believe it just perpetuates this cycle of begging and not being proactive in looking for work. So, I prefer giving them food. I tapped the girl on her shoulder and handed her the biscuit packet. I was very touched when she said “shukriya” (an Urdu word for thank you). I continued walking on and was a little stunned when I saw the little one following me. I figured she probably just wanted some money and was trying her luck with me….little did I know what she really was going to do.
She proceeded to do exactly what I suspected….begged for money, for a rupee, making me feel guilty for not indulging her….this little girl was probably a quarter my size and was so determined to get something out of me. I told her that I had already given her the biscuits and she should now leave me alone. She persisted. I insisted. And finally, the cheeky one mustered up the courage and point-blank told me that she did not want the biscuits. I was shocked and infuriated, and I snatched the packet from her and put it back in my bag. As I continued to speed along, the begging continued, until her older sister stepped in and pulled her away.
I was really amazed by the girl’s audacity to return the food back to me…..but then it struck me….this girl was not begging because she was really hungry, she was but a mere worker, put to work by her parents who probably instructed her that she should not accept anything less than money. She must have been all of 4 or 5 years old, dressed in a long skirt and tattered shirt, her face dotted with a runny nose. She was scuffed up and adorable….but had an attitude that even I couldn’t match up to!
Begging is still a bustling and lucrative profession in Mumbai. With a population of around 23 million people, this may just be a beggar’s paradise….so why accept food, when you can aim for (and get) the big bucks?