It is not uncommon to see people seeking alms in Bangalore. Today, while coming to work, I saw a woman with a child in her arms, begging at a traffic signal. It was not a pretty sight. The baby, probably about six months old, was blissfully asleep in its mother's arms. I usually do not give money as alms, but this time I gave what small change I had, knowing well that what I gave was not sufficient even for one meal of the baby.
Did the Mother have a choice? I tried to give her the benefit of doubt. Hers was probably a genuine case. She was probably not skilled in anything, and had the burden of the child to bear. But I have this feeling that there are always jobs available for the industrious and those who really want to work to make ends meet. Why, then, do people resort to begging? I am inclined to think that it is the "man-with-the-twisted-lip -syndrome", as harsh and insensitive as it may sound.
There was a time when 'ಕರತಲಭಿಕ್ಷಾ ತರುತಲವಾಸ:' was regarded highly, when poverty in terms of food, clothes and money was almost synonymous with the richness of the mind and intellect. But this is not that kind of a time. If one is reasonably intelligent and industrious, he/she can find a job (much better than begging), that might fetch enough to ward away hunger. In the olden days, one-sixth of honestly-earned money was supposed to be given off as charity. True, giving money away as charity is good for the giver, but does it not make one section of the society totally dependent on the favors of another? Won't that breed class distinction and class-wars?
I contrasted my experience with this article on Sepia Mutiny, about the Dharavi slum. I had read about the Dharavi slum a couple of years ago in the Kannada magazine, Taranga. And the picture I got from that was that of a dirty slum filled with frustrated people, as one sees in some movies. But this article was a real eye-opener for me. The slum is dirty alright, but the people are industrious, and becoming prosperous. The reason for this is their enthusiasm and spirit, that enable them to fight against all odds.
Apparently there are more than five-thousand one-room factories and many cottage industries in the two sq. km. area of Dharavi, whose collective annual turnover is a whopping 1 billion dollars! If that is not amazing, I don't know what is! Apparently they still do not pay taxes properly, but let us not think about it for now. 85% of the households have a television and 56% have a gas stove... A funny thing, as an aside - do 29% of the slum-dwellers think that the TV is more necessary than a gas stove? Oh, and 21% of the people own telephones. A really good number for a shantytown!
I can give other examples too. A lady used to work as a domestic help in my Grandmother's house. She worked in a few houses everyday for a few years and got her children (two boys), educated. Both of them did their B.E. The younger one lived in Canada for some time and made a lot of money. Now they all live in their own, big house with cars and other luxuries. One can say that Lady Luck was on their side, that the sons were intelligent and all that, but would they have become so successful if they did not have that strong desire to succeed, and if they had not worked so hard? To reiterate a point I feel very strongly about - if one really wants something (and perseveres), the whole universe will conspire in helping him achieve it.
The work-hard-and-sell-hard concept worked for the residents of Dharavi. Will it work for this woman and her child I met? And so many other men, women and children who have to beg for their living? Or rather, will they let it work for them? I fervently hope so, in spite of having a man like this at the helm.