Tuesday, June 14, 2011

To give or not to give

Pic by Aqseer
If you are a woman and a mother at that, you are never really and truly alone. Even when the man is busy and the children have flown the coop, you are not solo in your solitude. There is a constant companion nipping at the heels. Guilt! And the conspiracy is universal, not restricted to the familial alone. It is as though the world at large, with its social mores, the religious diktats, and incessant media commentary plus random elements from the environment share an on-going connivance to heighten that ever present sense of guilt.

Beggars are a major flag on this guilt ridden, emotional landscape. What can I really do about this? Having spent a lifetime, chauffeuring the kids to and from sundry classes, I have participated in this tense, threesome, roadside drama a whole lot, far more than I would have cared to….girls in the back seat, the beggar at my driving window and the byplay invading the car interiors. There were often shades of disapproval, unexpressed accusations of an unfeeling callousness, reproach for lack of sympathy and a youthful impatience with the jaded attitude of a woman past her prime washing up from the rear seat!

I don’t think my young and compassionate daughters have ever, really come to terms with my refusal to give alms. They would have suffered waves of frustration, even anger at the inhuman condition of the seeker, his needs and their mother’s stubborn resistance to alleviating it somewhat. 

Alas! That it were a policy that had been well thought through, aided by a rational and extensive debate. As a matter of fact, if pushed, I would be hard put to explain away the thoughts reeling in my head while I stared at the extended hand. A defensive wave would overpower my senses, a clamming up of any access to the self, a shame filled choking, a helplessness at being cornered, even a subdued anger at being shown up in the presence of Aqseer and Asawari. 

There was invariably loose change, lying within reach on the right of the dashboard. The mind would make feeble motions but my arm would stay glued to the steering. There was only one courtesy I allowed myself. I looked the beggar in the eye and slowly shook my head. It compounded my self-inflicted misery at not even acknowledging the person.

Yes, I know the sociological statistics. I am familiar with the arguments for and against encouraging beggars. I am aware of the NGOs working for them. Aqseer not only carried out a project study on the phenomenon, she did the route of gifting away her T-shirt parka on X-Mas to a shivering child, compelling me to buy pencils I did not need because of the size and condition of the seller, buying milk packets for an emaciated babe on Janpath and more……

I feel a sense of pride at their young and empathetic hearts. And there have been times I have suspected that nature conspired to punish me for my tight fistedness in this regard by arranging a clean sweep of my wallet or jewellery! 

But as a rule, there is something indefinable, an elemental instinct almost,that does not permit me the arrogance, of sparing my otiose coins for another human being. 

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