For some, begging is just their part-time profession

Many destitutes have no choice, others seek alms to make some extra money

She looks 70-something. She confirms that by nodding. Gesturing with her hands that she has lost her ability to speak, the woman explains that she ekes out a living by begging in Connaught Place.

She stations herself at N block at 6 every morning on a neatly spread newspaper. Her walking stick and a sack lie by her side.

She wraps it up by 7 pm to spend the night at nearby Hanuman Mandir. “Six to seven,” she shows by forming numbers in the air.

For over 30 years now, this has been her spot. As you spend some time by her side, you realise it is mostly 'known faces' stopping by to drop coins or notes.

She doesn’t make too much effort at attracting attention of the passers-by. Her mannerisms are controlled.

When this reporter explained she is writing on the daily lives of homeless and beggars in and around Connaught Place, she readily agrees to be photographed.

However, a teenager swiftly intervenes, “You cannot photograph her without paying her. This is not right.” Posing for the photo, she gestures to him to get out of the scene.

Later, the boy ensures that the woman receives some money. He, however, clarifies he is a ragpicker, and works for a living. “Mein mehnat karke kamata hoon.”

As she prepares to eat her lunch packed in aluminium foil around 2.30 pm, she grows uncomfortable with the company around.

“Maybe somebody packs it for her daily. I don’t know where she gets her food from,” the teenager says. The woman gestures at us to make a move.

At Hanuman Mandir, the lives of women her age have similar stories. While some lost their husbands many years back and took to begging, a few said they have been abandoned by their children.

For years, they have not been able to figure out “what else to do”. Begging or sticking around near the temple at least hasn’t deprived them of food, they feel.

“Every day 9 am onwards, I beg like so many other women here. I cannot even remember for how long I have been here now,” says Sarita (name changed).

It is different for the younger generation as they are taking to other professions like selling 'gemstones' for astrology near the temple, she adds.

Rajesh, 29, claims to be new into the business. A rickshaw-puller by profession, he says it has been only three days now.

“I lost my wife in an accident five days back. I suffered severe wounds in my legs in the same accident. Doctors have advised me not to pull a cycle rickshaw for at least another month now.”

A resident of Ajmeri Gate, Rajesh takes a bus to Connaught Place. “I leave my nine-month-old daughter at the neighbour’s till the time I get back home.”

Rajesh decided to turn to begging till he gets get back to ferrying passengers on his cycle-rickshaw is because he found it an “easy option”. Also, he has tried this “part-time” before.

“This is not the first time that I am begging. The last time I was in money trouble, I started begging besides ferrying passengers. Now I can collect an additional amount of Rs 100-Rs 150 a day.”

Attracting the crowd mostly by sobbing, he also gets packets of biscuits, chips besides money. 

He only has to choose his timings carefully. Rajesh prefers settling down on the Metro stairs around 1.30 pm.

If a  'disabled woman on one leg' is a common sight for commuters frequenting the Rajiv Chowk Metro exit, she is feared in the community of beggars.

“This Metro exit is her stronghold. She manages to drive away every other beggar from here. I chose to beg here in afternoon as she is not usually around this time. But she has threatened to bring the police if I don’t find another spot soon,” says Rajesh.

He claims he is not a part of a bigger gang as the leaders often pocket part of the day's pickings.

A busy Metro exit near Palika Bazaar and the traffic of foreigners have worked in his favour, he says.

He doesn’t plan to give up at least ‘part-time' begging anytime soon.

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