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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A Misplaced Sense of Charity

Not far from where I live, is a place of worship. Every Thursday, the reigning deity grants special audience, apparently, and the long line of devotees inside is matched by one of beggars outside. The faithful stop to distribute alms before leaving the place, either out of a sense of charity or to curry greater favour with the deity, whom they expect to grant their wishes or, at least, wash away their sins.

More often than not, the distribution of largesse is far in excess of the beggars' basic needs and they end up throwing away some of the food, much to the delight of stray cows and dogs, and spending some of the money on luxuries such as alchohol and tobacco. Clothes received, apart from those which can be worn or carried along, are generally sold off cheaply.

The spectacle takes on an entirely new dimension during winters, however, since the vagabonds as well as their benefactors are in attendance every day of the week. Word spreads far and wide that blankets are being distributed, in addition to food and money, and the throngs are to be seen to be believed. The woollens received each evening have to be disposed of by the next, in order to receive more. So, prices are negotiated accordingly. Those who are more enterprising even rent rooms in nearby localities to store the booty, so as to be able to maximise their earnings. Liberal use of intoxicants helps them brave the cold late into the night, since some donors arrive only after having finished the day's business.

Others among the homeless, such as rickshaw pullers or construction workers, who are often unable to afford shelter or clothing warm enough to help them survive the coldest months of the year and who may actually be poorer than the beggars in material terms, are not given any blankets. That, as far as I can see, is because such acts of charity may not be noticed by the reigning deity because of lack of proximity to the temple and, therefore, may not lead to wish fulfilment. Whether his field of vision is actually so narrow or is only perceived as such by his followers is a moot point.

1 comment:

Deb Sistrunk said...

This is definitely a post that makes one think.

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