Friday, December 26, 2008

Beg Your Pardon

By Maryam Javaid

Beggary is a problem in the third world, but perhaps, not of the third world alone. Our streets, traffic signals, markets, parking areas and all public places are inundated with beggars of all ages. It is becoming increasingly difficult to sit and wait in the car while a friend rushes to a nearby shop to grab a video. Instantly, there are knocks on the windows. If you dare to ignore, insults are hurled. It is also no hidden fact that there are mafias in action, in our cities. They kidnap little children or bribe those from poorer families, handicap them by severing their limbs, and have demarcated areas where only their beggars can operate. Anyhow, this is a view from Lahore. Here's what a friend has to write about her experiences in Karachi. (Saadia)

Karachi

The city has been invaded! We’ve been taken over by unnatural forces and there doesn’t seem to be a way out! We are doomed! I’m talking about “the attack of the beggars” (apologies for not being politically correct).

Along with the many major changes that have been happening to the city, including the dug up roads, bad traffic, and the very expensive water fountain that works only when it wants to (sorry, but still can’t get over that), the sudden bombardment of beggars is astounding.

One of the worst things that can happen to a car owner is having to stop their car at a road side, anywhere, for any purpose. Be it to get some groceries, stepping out for dinner etc, or being stuck in traffic, there is no escaping these creatures. Men, women and children of all shapes and sizes, appear at the side of your window, out of nowhere and start their well-rehearsed monologues. Sometimes it is disheartening to see the number of people down and out, but mostly it is just plain irritating. While deciding whether to give in to their miserable stories and help them out to buy a few more trips to junkie-Ville, or to stare off into the distance in order to ignore them, its always mind-boggling to note this sudden breakout.

A relatively new trend is the washing of the cars’ windshields etc. The amount of will power required to keep one’s self from running over these people – who very nicely take it upon themselves to clean your car, whether u like it or not – is exhausting. A year ago, this was a new phenomenon executed chiefly by men only, but now there has been an onslaught of women and young children in this line of work too.

However, the tactic that I find most entertaining and interesting is what the little boys and girls of Zamzama and Khadda market are pulling. Cute little one-liners in English have been given to these children, in order to con any unsuspecting parties. Dialogues like, “what’s up nigger?” and “please baji, don’t break my heart, buy one flower” are all designed to dupe people, especially the gullible and easily amused (I plead guilty), successfully. However, whatever mechanism that is at work behind this fa├žade is very cunning. They manage to snap the people out of their reverie and get them amused enough to happily hand their money out to buy dirty flowers in even dirtier packaging.

Thus, the pessimistic view, humbly put forward, is that it seems that begging, in new forms or old, is here to stay. The attack cannot be countered as they are the masses with the weapons of our destruction – their outstretched hands. So, what is one to do? Well, I, do what most people would. I start the car, put on my shades and hum to the tune of Shahzad Roy’s “zindagi maut na ban jaaye”, making sure that my defences are in check – the bored, impassive facial expression – just in case I’m struck unexpectedly.

11 comments:

Abdul Sami said...

funnily its bigger in big cities of the world.. u get beggars in london and new york... lahore and karachi... not so much in smaller cities... perhaps coz smaller cities people do not humour such people as much ?

Saadia said...

Or perhaps because big cities mean big money, hence, the pull?

Onkar said...

True, begging is a big problem in big cities. Hope, somebody goes to the root of the problem and finds out a practical and humane solution.

Saadia said...

The root of the problem is, of course, poverty. This is where socialist states excel!

Abdul Sami said...

but shouldn't big cities mean less poverty... i think its the tourism factor where people come from other cities and 'just giv money away' whereas locals tend to avoid givin it... !!!

Saadia said...

The way our economies work, wherever there is affluence, there is the darker side of the coin as well. Income gaps keep expanding: the rich keep getting richer, and the poor, poorer.

Plus, people from far off villages throng big cities in search of employment; and when they don't find it, beggary becomes a necessity when packing bags remains an option no more.

Saadia said...

I'm curious. Has a study ever been conducted on the issue? I'm sure there's more to eat - a lot more - than meets the eye.

Maryam said...

Wow, I actually merit a serious discussion. Nice. (Yes Saadia, the self-deprecation will never die :P) God bless!

Saadia said...

You can contribute in the discussion too! :P

Id it is said...

I have witnessed that with a deep sense of guilt and shame whenever I have visited cities across S.E Asia; as recent as in New Delhi last year!

I have to admit that I have not been proactive in bringing about change. Apathy is perhaps more shameful than is the bare bodied begging of those hapless children...

Tazeen said...

oh being a karachiite, I know how painful it can be. There is this signal where a woman pesters me everyday, one day, i parked my car and asked her to tell me her story. First she tried to run away but was stopped by people who thought she stole something from me and was running away. of the six children on the signal with her, only one was her own. The rest were loaned to her by neighbours in Uch Sharif and she will pay a precentage of the earnings to their parents when she goes back.
Almost all the female beggers also work as sex workers