The year 2003 was coming to an end and we were preparing to go back to our college. It was a cool winter afternoon in Phuntsholing. The month of December had just begun and our college was due to be re-opened in a week’s time after the winter vacation. So, I and a few other friends were on our way back to our college in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu, India. We had reached Phuntsholing town from Thimphu the day before and we were due to leave for Calcutta at 2:30 pm that afternoon. After checking out from the hotel, I and my friend Sangay Tshering who is currently a lecturer at Samtse College of Education went to buy some eatables and drinks to be taken to the college. We entered a store and bought a few bottles of traditional Bhutanese pickle and some other eatables. By then, it was already about 1:00 pm and we hadn’t even had our lunch. So, we were in a hurry and as soon as we got our things packed up and bills cleared, we rushed out to go to a restaurant for lunch. But as we came out of the shop and hurried away, a sweet-voiced young girl called out in a shy voice, “Could you kindly give me Rs.10 please?” I don’t know whether she was a Bhutanese or an Indian. She was speaking Nepali.
We had no time to spare and we couldn’t even stop to talk to her. I asked my friend whom she was talking to, and he told me she was talking to us. At that time, it did not hit me hard although I had wanted to give her what she had asked for. After all, it was not a huge amount. But we had no time to pay her attention. I even joked with my friend later that she was an unlucky beggar because had she met us when we were loitering around, she could have got what she had asked for.
However, the image of that poor girl still flashes across my mind from time to time. It haunts me with the guilt of having consciously turned a blind eye to the pain of such a pathetic innocent soul. I know we were busy at the time but I could have at least spared a few seconds to take out a Nu.10 note and hand it over to her. I feel so sorry for her that I couldn’t be any help to her. It’s true that nobody would beg for pleasure. It’s sad that the pains and sorrows one goes through are invisible to human eyes. Otherwise, we could have seen what painful circumstances had compelled her to ask for help. It made me wonder how long she could continue to survive by begging, and that too from heartless people like me. What I have learned from this sad experience is that when one can have the guts to beg, we must have the heart to help. So next time when you see a beggar at your door, at least try to send him/her away with a smile.
We hardly see street beggars here in Bhutan but we do have monks and gomchens begging for religious purposes. For me, although I can’t afford to give them anything significant, I at least make sure that they don’t go away empty-handed. I have seen people who even verbally abuse them and send them away humiliated. Of course, there are some beggars who demand more than what we offer them, but we won’t lose anything if we tell them nicely. After all, they are also human beings like us who have a heart and mind like ours. People generally believe that one should sweat to earn his or her own bread, but not everybody has the fortune to invest their hard work in. I always remind my wife that people won’t beg for pleasure and she agrees. I believe that beggars also have dignity and that they deserve our respect and love.
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