The Curious Case of the Sophisticated Beggar

One of the common sights in any metropolis - be it in a third-world nation or in a developed superpower- is the abundance of beggars. By circumstance or design, in a city teeming with people, there will always be a bunch of people who end up homeless, jobless and hungry. Although it's sad to see people in such a state, at times you wonder whether some of them even deserve any sympathy.

I remember a bunch of such people living on the pavements near Churchgate station in Mumbai. These people would spend half the day taking drugs, and the other half imploring people to save them from their plight by giving money for food. Of course, the money probably was more needed for the next hit than food. You could argue that the despicable nature of their lives made them turn to drugs, but I suspect that it probably occurred the other way round for these unruly elements.

And then there are the con-men. From Mumbai to Bangalore to New York, these people are everywhere. And I am sure 99% of them ought to be arrested, rather than being 'helped'. Most of these are well-dressed and educated and are just hoping to catch someone naive enough to believe their 'sorrowful' story.

I first came across one such guy in Mumbai. He claimed that he was a bank manager from Ahmedabad who was on an official trip to Mumbai. As luck would have it, he had lost his briefcase and wallet in Mumbai. Of course, he hadn't eaten for two days and was in such 'bad shape' that he just needed enough money to go back home. It sounded pitiful at first, but then I wondered why he would not make a phone call to someone to help him. Surely, if he'd been on an official trip, he would have been meeting someone here. Well, you ask him a couple of questions and he coolly brushes them aside saying that he can't remember anything now that he hadn't eaten for two days. A couple of more questions and he had vanished into thin air. Oh well, a month later, I saw him again at the same railway station asking for money to get to Ahmedabad.

After such experiences while commuting to college in Mumbai, it was easy to recognize these cons in Bangalore and New York. And trust me, these people seem to be in plenty around Times Square. And I doubt any of them ever get arrested. Well, who would even bother reporting them?

Thinking from a different perspective, you could say that these people have chosen to be 'beggars' to avoid doing any work. Probably dishonest, but one could say it's a way of earning one's living.

I digress. The whole point of this post of course, was to mention the strangest 'beggar' that I have ever seen.

I saw her the first time last week on Broadway near WTC. A well-dressed lady, she looked completely out of place sitting with the ubiquitous 'Hungry and Homeless' board. At first, I even thought she was just 'holding' the place for some beggar. Well, it wasn't the case. She was the one who was begging. Resting on the pavement with a bagpack by her side and reading the latest Jeffrey Archer novel, you could have easily mistaken her for a tourist, if not for the board and the alms in front of her. It seemed weird, and I still thought it to be some enterprising tourist.

A day later, I see a different girl at the same place, with the same board. Of course, she wasn't reading any novel. Instead, she was 'relaxing' and listening to music on her MP3 player !

When you have lived in metropolises all your life, you start thinking that nothing can seem weird any more. But then heck, what are these people? Sophisticated beggars? Polished mendicants?

Or maybe this is all part of a charade and it's just the plainclothes police. Well, if that is the case, then they are doing a pretty bad job at the 'plainclothes' part of it.

Or maybe, just maybe, these are a new class of 'classy beggars'? Or the 'upper beggar-class', if you can call it that?

Some things in life, you never know.

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