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Beggars can be choosers

Bharathi Prabhu, Nov 26 2017, 23:46 IST

Begging and beggars have changed with the times, at least in urban India. In the days of yore, it was the plaintive cry of "amma thayi" that tugged at the women folks' hearts and made them rush out with leftover food. Perhaps, it was the advent of refrigerators that put paid to this practice.

Beggars now mostly get money instead of food. They are also forced to shift their operation site from temples to traffic junctions as people spend more time at the latter. You have people of the third gender, old people or mothers with babies who accost you at traffic junctions and seek money.

Beggars of today are also expected to have or at least pretend to have a talent or a skill to seek alms. As a result, you have those who come with their bulls and shehanayi. The kole basava (also a term used for someone who agrees with everything) nods or shakes its head in answer to its keeper's questions. Many a time, money is given just to stop the totally off-tune songs that are played on his instrument.

In the West, it is different. People dressed as living statues enthrall passers-by and collect voluntary donations. Some great music and dancing happen, too. Known as busking, this form of street performance is an art. Not that our garden-variety begging doesn't happen there. The homeless seek money with their caps in hand. In fact, the term handicapped is supposed to be derived from this practice.

But what happens when East meets West? Or, in this case, East meets Far-East? Recently, there was news about a Russian begging on the streets of Kancheepuram. Why? Some reports say that he had used the wrong ATM pin and had been locked out. Others say that he had exhausted all his money.

Most normal folks would have tried to contact their bank in Russia or the folks back home, but 'nyet'. Evgenii Berdnikov chose to beg at a temple in Kanchi and when the police sent him to Chennai, this researcher, as news reports claim, chose to beg again there. This time around, however, he also charged Rs 100 for a selfie with him.

Externa Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweets that she will help him because Russia is our time-tested friend. Authorities say they can't deport him as yet because his papers are valid. But Evgenii, not Evangenil as Sushma Swaraj addressed him, wants to come to Bengaluru next before his visa expires.

So, if you happen to meet a white beggar around the city anytime, ask him if his name is Evgenii or Evangenil. He may choose to remain silent and you can choose whether or not to take a selfie with him.

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