Every time we go somewhere, anywhere, cross a subway, go to Antwerp, Bruges or for that matter even the local shopping street, we come across a certain bracket of people in Belgium, poor and unemployed from the looks of it. They would be singing, playing the fiddle, the guitar or any other instrument with a bowl in front of them and the whole pathway would vibrate with the strands of their music. So all the while you pick up a coffee, decide weather to enter a shop the music will there in the background. The best part is the music we have heard so far has been good. Nothing off tune.
The point is every time I see or hear them, something tugs at my heart and I want to drop a few coins. It is not pity. Pity is what I felt when I saw little children back in India with small babies on their hands begging for money at traffic signals. Far from sad and sorrowful thought, I suspect what I really feel is genuine admiration for their skill and what they are attempting. Whatever the reason, on retrospect I also feel a bit guilty as I have never given money with pleasant feelings in India. It feels as if I am betraying my countrymen in some ways.
So I did some thinking on it and as I was speaking to amma today the answer emerged. Back in India even though many of us drop of coins at signals, it is usually far from a pleasant experience. In fact I suspect the beggars go that extra mile to look more miserable than they actually are. They try to make you feel guilty for all that you have and they don’t. They try to make sure that you don’t miss the fact that they are desperate in contrast how lucky you got. Many of them corner you at odd places and scream at you if they think the money you have given is not sufficient. I think I remember someone telling me once a beggar returned a 2 Rs coin saying he wanted 5!
I am not judging the act of begging. It is unfortunate people are poor and we (Indians) belong to one of the poorest nations, so some of us might have to beg until things get better. That is the way of things. Having come here and seen these people, I have come to realize that begging can be done with some dignity. Sing, dance or if nothing pretend to be a statue at tourist spots! If none of this works why can’t they be creative and think of other things better than tearing their own clothes, smudging their face with dirt and carrying a borrowed child to the nearest traffic signal to bang on car windows? Of course not all are frauds and some people might genuinely be as desperate as they look, but still I wish our people would try to turn begging into earning by doing or even just attempting to do something worthwhile.