It happened again. A third time. A stranger walked up to me and asked for money. This time again, like the previous 3 times I was left feeling guilty and retrospective of the incident.
The first time this happened I was at a McDonald’s in CP of New Delhi minding my own business. A middle aged woman walked up to me and asked if she could sit at my table. I moved my tray and made space. She didn’t have a plate or tray of food. She sat and started talking and I was being courteous, soon enough she said it was her birthday and she had come to the Hanuman temple nearby. I wished her a happy birthday and continued looking uncomfortable. She wouldn’t notice anything and went on talking, she said she’d had a fight with her mother in law and left the house without breakfast. I didn’t notice anything, nor did I feel sorry for her, it was new to me, where a stranger walks up, makes civilized conversation and suddenly says its my birthday and I haven’t had food.
I reached into my wallet and pulled out a small wad of loose change. There were 10s and 20s amounting to maybe 80 or 100 rupees. I handed it to her and said buy yourself a burger. I was confused by the look on her face. I was worried if she was offended because she did look from a respectable household. She was not. She counted the cash and looked up at me. “Give me 50 more and I can have a non veg meal” she said with a pompous air. Like I was selling something to her and she was bargaining to make a sale. I didn’t know what to say, I took off.
I have no idea if there was any truth in her story. The way she narrated at first made me feel sorry for her, but the way she counted the money and asked for more made me feel sorry for myself. Was she just a con or was she a bad natured and blunt person honestly hurting?
The second time, I was in college. Me and a friend were at the bus stop waiting to catch a bus to Nehru Place to get his laptop fixed. A man approached us and said he was from Muzaffarnagar in UP. He had come with his wife and 10 year old child to Delhi. On his way, they were robbed and all their money and luggage was stolen. He had no money, the child was hungry and they had no way of getting to Old Delhi railway station to catch a train back home. The man was willing to offer his watch, cloths and whatever he had on him if we could help him with some cash.
I didn’t know what to do. My friend was tugging at me and to make matters worse, the bus we were waiting for had to arrive at the next moment. I took the three 10 rupee notes that I had in my pocket as loose change and handed it to him before hurriedly being bundled into the bus.
There was no way of knowing if they were really in trouble or had I been conned. The man’s pleas seemed earnest and the wife and child looked really helpless. Even today when I’m reminded of them sitting at the bus stop with nothing more than the cloths on their back I fill up with guilt. Should I had heard the man out a little longer? Should I have tried to convince my friend to let go of me so that we could listen to what this man was saying?
The 3rd time. This past Monday near office. It was drizzling outside and I was waiting for my Uber. A man, who didn’t look drunk until he started talking locked eyes and said “Bother, will you do me a favor?” I didn’t talk so he continued, “I fought with my wife, left my phone and everything and came here. Now I don’t have money to get home. Can you help me?” I was repulsed by the stench of liquor, a saw that he was clutching to a tetra pack of apple juice in his right hand. I still hadn’t said a word.
“If I try to beg for money, people wouldn’t give me anything. Everything’s right with me. So can you help me out here?” He had the drunk cavalier’s air around him. I didn’t feel like helping him. I walked away from him. I didn’t help him. The reasons could be many, that I didn’t have loose change in my pocket or that it was raining, or that it was getting late and here was a drunkard asking for money. I just walked off.
Parting ways with a little loose change wouldn’t have cost me much, but if he was in genuine trouble my little gesture would’ve really helped him. Perhaps this is what is called yielding to prejudice.
Such incidents happen with all of us, maybe not regularly but it happens when helpless people shed their egos and reach out for help from strangers they’ve never met before. One can even call this begging because they are so out of options that they have nothing else to do but ask for money from others with nothing in return to give. They are basically asking for mercy, for deliverance of some kind. How do we as the conduits of this deliverance react? We have less than 2 minutes to make up our minds. How do we judge characters so fast? How do we fight out prejudices and make a decision? It is so hard.
The easy way however is to take the loss. Parting ways with a small financial loss is a lot easier than living on with the guilt of being indifferent.