Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Beggars Mafia

It's aggressive. It's in the face. But  what makes it most distressing is the fact that you know that its an organised racket.

The Sanjeeva Reddy Nagar junction is a big junction these days. It has grown bigger over the years and one can see a large number of vehicles restraining themselves on all four sides, pedestrians trying to sneak off to the other side, with not an inch available for the good old push carts. These days you cannot even stand edge ways on that road.

In the old days there used to be a couple of old men and women beggars, I remember a polite old Muslim, who would beg in an orderly fashion and move on. But now it appears to have been upgraded in the records of whoever controls the beggar mafia. It is obvious from the kinds and the number of beggars that abound the junction.

There are two couples now a days. Two young women, carrying two young men, clothed in no more than a loin cloth (the guys), each without one leg, one without a hand as well. The men are perched on the backs of the young women, who are attractive as well, and they walk around among the vehicles. When the light turns green, they drop their baggage and the men hobble off to the pavement.

Then we have a group of young mothers who carry their children and beg around. Again, non locals, from the look of them. The children look dazed and are generally sleeping. Most children have bandages on their arms, legs and other parts. The mothers again are well chosen - they are not ugly.

On the pavement, one year olds are playing, precariously close to the streaming rush of heavy vehicles that zoom about. One slip, one stumble and they are pulp. One young mother somehow saw me looking at them. She came and started knocking on the window. So hard that if she kept it up for any longer it might have broken I felt. All the time looking at me with fiery eyes, spouting some unheard invectives. probably did not like the look in my eyes.

The maimed, the unfortunate, the injured - they are showcased in the worst possible manner that degrades that bit of life. Feel for this and pay your guilt money - that's the offer. One day I was going on the bike and Anjali looked on in amazement at the maimed beggars. Yes, that's life. But it's not as simple as that. How come these specialised cases have come here? Why is there a pattern? Where are those old men and women? As the beggar couple passes an SUV, they knock on the window. The glass rolls down and a crisp note passes into the young woman's hands. The cops watch, the public watches.

Who brings them all here? Who keeps the others away? Who brings the guy with no legs and hands and puts him  on the side of the road where he thrashes along all day? Who takes away all the money that they collect? Who maims them? What kind of people live off this existence? It's not a secret. It has been shown in movies, written about in books. And we look on and pay them for bringing this bit of life into our lives.

I watched the man with one arm and one leg drag himself  across the pavement into the mess that the Metro Rail chaps had made - using his right hand and his left leg to propel himself forward. No padding, obviously an effort. When he looked back at the traffic, one could see a crazy defiance in his eyes, or eye, he seemed to have only one good eye. Can't be more than thirty or thirty five this young man. I feel for him and wonder why god has made such an existence for this man. Then I remembered the beggar who lies on the road totally helpless - near Whisper Valley I think, who has no arms and legs and cannot even drag himself like this man. And then I see something interesting. A well built guy in the clothes of a priest comes into the scene, you know those guys who wear kurtas, beads etc. He is talking to this beggar and asking him to return to the pavement. Is he the one? He did look the part - or maybe I am mistaken.

One child gets a chocolate from a kind lady on a scooter. She is no more than three or four. Her face is radiant as she flashes her chocolate. The other kids watch indolently. The mothers are hardly bothered. It's a small bar of Cadbury. How come no one is even looking at that bar? You'd think they'd fight over it. The kid tires of showing off her bar after five minutes. But for five minutes her face was heaven.

On one hand we promise schools, food, dignity, right to life, safety. On another we watch mutely as if this was a drama being played for us, in the middle of one of the busiest junctions in Hyderabad.

I heard a story a couple of decades ago when we were in college. There was an old beggar woman who lived under the Kukatpally flyover. When she died they found that in her belongings she had close to one lakh - a huge amount of money those days. Back then people did not have so many needs so they probably did not kill her. But now I see, as the beggars go around picking cash off the vehicles, there must be many in the audience who must be calculating how much they'd make by the end of the day. It's my wager that the beggars would probably have more on them than most of the people on the road then. And from the apathetic look in their eyes when they knock on the windows, they probably know it.

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