I met an extraordinary rickshaw driver yesterday. We got talking on the way back home late in the night after a busy schedule consisting of writing and co-ordinating work in a marketing department.
He has a weather-beaten face, is quite heavy of physique, is simple in speech and mien. I like talking to rickshaw drivers because they come up with unique stories, the substance of everyday living. This man has an interesting background. He was an asphalt layer, a shop salesman, a peon in an office, and, what else?
"I have worked as a beggar, too."
"A beggar?" I ask incredulously. I am stunned. Is being a beggar a form of "work" then it is an interesting definition.
"Yes, on the road."
"How did it happen?"
"Many years ago when I was studying, father was jobless, no money at home, so I used to go to the nearby busy area and beg."
That's quite extraordinary. He is not ashamed to admit a fact we all would be ashamed to vouch for. Not that we don't beg. I was a salesman once and my job was to beg, irrespective of smart terms like "deal making", "negotiating", "marketing" etc, that they use these days, a salesman's job those days was to beg.
"And how much did you earn each day from begging?"
"Around ten rupees. On a good day even fifteen and twenty."
That wasn't bad. It could, sort of, supplement a family's income in those days.
"But did people give you money, since you are okay looking and have no disabilities."
"I used to stand on the road with one hand outstretched, some people would drop coins, may be out of habit."
"Weren't you ashamed?" I needed to get to basics.
"No. No. Why should I be? I was helping my family. Only my mother was working as a household help then. I was studying. We didn't have any other source of income. Some people teased me, but I wasn't ashamed. No."
I didn't exactly say it is a noble profession. But his words made me think somewhat along those lines.
"What do feel about the fact that you were a beggar?"
"Everybody begs, someday or the other. A man when he is about to die, begs God to save him. That also is begging."
Interesting. What a philosopher. I guess to be a Bhiku or a Sanyasi, (a saintly beggar) you also have to be a philosopher. I don't know if the generous tip I gave him was any indication of the way I felt.