Adventures in India

This is an open journal of some of the things I see and think about while trying to find a place to live in India. It may or may not be interesting. I make no promises.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Beggars

There is a Kali temple near the river, not too far from the guest house I'm staying at here in Varanasi. I like to go there in the morning and offer garlands of red hibiscus flowers to Kali. The priest is very calm and happy. He told me he is happy because people bring presents for his Mother.

Walking up the broad stone steps from the river to the tiny temple alcove set into a long wall of shops and shrines, one must walk through a gauntlet of about 40 beggars, twenty on each side. They reach out open palms, calling you "baba", some are insistent, others soft and gentle...old women and men, lepers, amputees, filthy children in rags asking "One rupee! One rupee!" Holy beggars are everywhere, as well. Some are smiling, whining and wheedling, others are silent, their gaze fixed on the horizon. A few lepers are pushed around the broader streets in little tricycle carts, peddled by a comrade. Old women can be tenactious; one gave me a nasty little scratch in Vellore clutching at my arm.

What to do? Give or not to give? I give when I have change, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I give a huge amount because they are hideous, or very old, or missing all of their digits and their nose. I don't think this makes me a good person; I feel more like a courier.

People in India refer to Westerners coming to India searching for spiritual wisdom as "spiritual beggars".

I have an idea for starting a unique form of charity while in India. I hit people up for 25 dollars via the internet, which is about a thousand rupees. I then go out and give it to someone who needs it, take their picture, and send it to the donor. People who send money can even specify who they want me to give the money to: lepers, women with children, the disabled, the old, the blind, the crazy, holy people. I could create a questionnaire.

I'll probably start out with friends at first, then let word of mouth do the rest.

I saw a young man today when we went to the holy Buddhist city of Sarnath. Dredlocks, piercing eyes, legs like a rag doll, just flopping behind him. His face was so thin it looked like a skull. He asked me for some money, so I gave him some.

It is a mystery how some hold onto life so tightly, and others throw it away.

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