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Just another day in India

I went to Hearsch Bakery near Holy Family Hospital after ages to pick up a burger for breakfast this morning.

I saw an elderly gentleman, possibly in his mid sixties, standing opposite Holy Family in the alley. He was simply dressed like middle class folks of his genre, white bush shirt tucked out, grey trouser. He had a red and white jhola, the sling bag favoured by folks of his generation. He had round glasses, was slim and probably looked the way my grandfather would have looked twenty years back. A typical, middle class gent in the early years of his retirement.

And he had his hand stretched out asking for alms.

I remembered seeing him when I had come to Hearsch's months back. I was very puzzled even then.

I wondered what his story would be. Was he abandoned by his children? Was he laid off? He did look in good health. Didn't look particularly poor. Yet, there was a strange mix of serene desperation on his face. What would have driven him to beg? Should I offer him some money? That's what he was standing there for. But he looked so professorial and dignified. How could one go and offer cash to someone like that? Should I get something for him from Hearsch. Was he a vegetarian? Should I offer to take him to Hearsch and buy him something.

And then I found myself in my car, driving off with my burger.

Poverty and deprivation is so in our face in Mumbai. Even if you leave the slums and people defecating on the roads because they have no option, you have an incessant stream of beggars of all sizes and genders knocking on your car windows. Amputed people lying outside train stations, trying to get your attention by flicking some body part.

Most of us have developed an immune system. We have learnt to move on to the next traffic signal without thinking twice. Common arguments would be that you are doing the kid a disservice by giving him money. And we know that most are run by Ganglords and begging syndicates. We cringed when Danny Boyle showed this to the world. But we knew it was true.

I know folks who have their soft spots. The other day I was with a colleague in a car who took out some coins for a listless boy who knocked at our window. He is a father.

Then there is someone who opens her heart and purse to elderly women. She misses her grandmother.

Rolling the car window up is an option too.
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