May 18, 2020

Turned to beggars, one by one

My friend Nity walked with some migrants. So have some others. Through their accounts, I know second-hand what so many of my fellow-Indians are reduced to in this time of lockdown.

But I also know simply by looking out my window on any given evening, and these days I don’t even need to look, I just need to keep an ear peeled. First-hand knowledge, too. On any given evening, there are anywhere between 25 and 40 people scattered around the nearby junction, waiting for food. From a distance, the women sit like so many dhobi-bundles, the men stalk about like long-legged storks. There seem to be occasional random generous people who stop and hand out food, but there’s clearly also an organized effort by young men on scooters. Two on each, the pillion man facing backwards to make the hand out go more smoothly. I once stopped to ask them who they were: residents of the nearby fishing “village”, really a densely-populated collection of ramshackle and not-so-ramshackle houses. A slum pocket, really. “We just decided to bring food for these people daily,” a pillion rider told me. "These people and watchmen in all these buildings, some of them are not getting any food. Then his partner revved their scooter and they sped off to the south, off to offer food to some others who needed it.

My ear now knows too. Because every evening, a cop comes by on a gleaming Bullet mobike, stops in the middle of the junction and uses his horn liberally to scatter the small horde. Some evenings he goes on with this for a couple of hours: the people he shoos away seem to want to come back almost immediately. From my window, I can see some of them remonstrating with him.

Who are these people and what’s to become of them?

Then there’s our pal A who sells us vegetables at the same corner, and our pal G who operates a taxi and who waits for business at, yes, that same corner too. Both have come by in recent times to ask for a little cash, their shame and anguish at needing to ask evident even through their masks.

What’s to become of us if a lockdown turns too many of us into beggars? Beggars that cops must be deputed to disperse? Beggars who wait for food?

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