There was a story about a poet (see ‘Alms-seeker’), whose poem on a beggar earned for him applause from the audience, many of whom melted into tears at a function. As he was leaving the auditorium the beggar approached him for alms. And, of course, he refused to part with anything. The poet and I have one thing in common – imaginary thinking. And my pity, at the most, may lead to wetting my eyelashes or doling out a few coins.
Who made beggars? Is it the society or the governments? Probably, social irresponsibility of the society which forms governments.
Many beg for alms in the name of God. In this sense, they act as middlemen between the non-beggars and the God. They beg on the scriptural strength - May the ‘haves’ help the ‘have-nots’. And the ‘have-nots’ like to remain ‘have-nots’ so that without efforts they can live!
The last time when I visited the shrine of Omkareshwar, to get away from the hurly-burly of stressful city life, I came across an exceptional way of earning the blessings of the Lord. Right at the landing of the bridge on the other side of River Narmada, there was a man with a sack full of popcorn packets. Above him, on the branches of the fig trees, were monkeys – about twenty-five of them.
“Feed the monkeys and earn God’s blessings”, he was shouting. It was like re-enacting the ritual of feeding milk to dogs at Shirdi shrine. The business was brisk, as people played with the monkeys. My attention was drawn to the bamboo stick, which the vendor had kept by his side. He used to drive away the monkeys to protect his merchandise. For him existence was more important than blessings of God.
“Why don’t you ask the people to feed the destitute sitting over there, instead of the monkeys?” I asked the vendor.
He quipped: “Because they are not monkeys. People are more interested in seeing monkeys’ pranks”.
Sitting on the parapet of the Annapurna temple, facing River Narmada and the hill on the other bank, I thought peacefully. Had I not spent money to come all the way to this place? Why? Just to inhale fresh air and enjoy the scenic beauty? Could I not use the money for some benevolent purpose? Why the shrines are there? To serve the temple priests and beggars and to earn blessings of God?
My mind retreated into the shell of hollowness, where no thoughts could peep in. The soft gentle breeze from across the river fondling me murmured in my ears: “You and the poet are one. Nonentities living in an unsubstantial world.”
Published in FREE PRESS JOURNAL, Indore, India - 1993