Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The comrade

This is an acknowledgment to my friend, who I met briefly on a traffic signal.

Doing my bit for the Tsunami victims, I had gone with a group of friends to collect money from the public. After getting the checks (from relatives, mostly) and having exhausted all the known resources, tin boxes in hands, we hit the streets.

'I don't want to see any pairs. Each of us will take a separate corner.' I said, with more courage than I felt.

I found a safe corner at town hall square. I would walk into the traffic when it slowed down for the red light, and jump out just before it turned green.

'Tsunami mate!' , I would say, jingling the box. ('Mate' is 'for' in Gujarati.)

Those who looked back at my face, my eyes, more often than not, reached into their pockets. The box took in coins, even some ten rupee notes. I always said a cheerful 'Thank you.'

After an hour, I realized that the auto rickshaw passengers were more eager to put cash in my box. The car drivers avoided my eyes. So its true, I thought. The middle class is much more generous than the rich.

And then, horror of horrors, a real beggar joined me. A middle aged, dirty, if-he-could-beg, he-could-work kind of beggar. If I started on one end of the road, he would follow me. I was getting extremely hassled. Should I confront him or should I take a tea break? What will I say if I confront him? More important, what will he say to me?

The lights turned green suddenly and I stepped on the square.

I turned around to see the beggar smiling a 'hello comrade' at me.
'Tsunami mate?' he asked me.

I nodded, slightly unnerved by his sweet smile.

He took out a five hundred rupee note and slid it in my box, and walked away!

Thank you, comrade. Thank you for the donation, and for the dignity you awakened in me for all beings.