Saturday, July 2, 2011

I Don't Normally Do Serious...

India isn’t the only place in the world you get begged at, I know. Many a time in Birmingham I have been asked if I could ‘Spare a bit of change’ or if ‘I want to buy a ‘Big Issue’ from a beggar, but in India it really is a whole new kettle of fish. I rarely write about things that don’t amuse me and although being bribed at the airport wasn’t my idea of funny, I can imagine me clambering up a ramp to the hold of an aeroplane, wearing skinny jeans and wedges was comical to the workers below, so I’ll let that one go, but this post is serious.
Beggars are everywhere here, men, women, children, babies, old ladies, children with one arm, children with no arms, ladies with scared faces, men with no legs (you get the picture,) constantly approach me asking for money, or Chapatti (Indian food). The relentless begging means that I hardly leave the house on my own anymore as the children will just follow me for miles and the sight of babies playing half naked in the street was starting to disturb me. At night you will see families who cant even afford to live in a slum lying on cardboard boxes in the street, trying to sleep.
People said to me before I moved to India that you get used to the begging and you just have to tell them ‘No’ and they go away, but I’ve never got used to it. Its just awful to see adults and children living this way and all I want to do is give them everything in my pockets, but I know that you can't do that. Everyone gets begged at here, I probably slightly more as I’m female and white but even the local Indians get their fair share, the difference is if they say ‘No’ they will walk away, when I say ‘No’ they don’t really listen.
I was walking down Marine Drive on my own and I saw a young beggar man coming towards me, he must have been about 15 years old as he was quite tall. I wasn’t scared of him as although annoying, beggars rarely hurt people. He blocked the path in front of me and started screaming in my face, as usual everyone around just stared at the commotion. I tried to get past but he wouldn’t let me through and scratched all the way down my arm with his nails and I started to bleed. In complete shock I managed to barge past him and carried on home wondering where I could get a tetanus shot!

Paul, his friend and I were coming back from a night out at 2.00am, as we got out of the taxi we were descended upon by 7 or 8 beggar children. ‘Money, money,’ ‘Chapatti,’ ‘No mama, no papa’, they were shouting. As we entered the gate to our apartment they started to come in, then out of nowhere our Security Guard came over and started beating the children with a bamboo stick. I could see the bruising coming to the surface of their dark skin immediately, the little boys were laughing thinking it was a game and the girls were screaming, I was screaming ‘Leave them alone, its OK!!!’ and Paul was trying to reason with the Guard. He wouldn’t listen and continued to beat them, I had to go inside.

One evening Paul and I took a shortcut through Churchgate Station when I heard a lady sobbing and begging in Hindi to everyone. I looked at her face, it was severely burned and melted, as if she had, had hot oil poured on it, recently. Again I got really upset, apparently they are called dowry scars, which means her husband may have injured her so he could re-marry and receive more money (dowry) from the new wives parents.

I was in our car when a little girl about 5 years old started tapping on the window and doing the hand to mouth gesture commonly used by beggars, she was holding a baby which must have been half her body weight and was crying her little eyes out. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her; I could see her tears were real as she kept wiping them away (and on the car window) so I thought I’d give her some money. I went to open the window when Ramesh stopped it and said ‘No maam… Watch’ I put the window back up and watched as she continued to beg. When the traffic lights turned green, the little girl’s tears immediately stopped and she hit the window as hard as she could then ran to the side of the road and started shouting at our car.

Local Indian taxi windows are always down which makes it perfect for beggars to put their hands inside the car. I was in a taxi one day looking the opposite way, when I felt something tapping on the side of my face, I turned around and it was an old man who was tapping my face with the stub of his severed arm. I immediately started crying, it was such a shock!

Again in a taxi, a woman with a baby came up to the window, she was showing me the baby then asking for money, I said no. She then started pointing to the bottle of water I was holding, then pointing to the baby, I gave her the water and she went away. As the taxi pulled away I saw her drinking the water when a man came from one of the side streets and snatched it from her and he finished the bottle. I'm sure the same thing would have happened if I would have gave her cash.

I left our house to go for walk and was immediately clocked by a little boy and girl. They both came up to me and started asking for the usual. They were touching me everywhere, trying to hold my hand and pulling on my clothes, I said no but they just kept following me, in the end I went into the local bakery and bought them some bread, but they still wouldn’t leave. I was getting quite emotional as they were really sweet but I felt I had given enough. I crouched down to their level (like Supernanny recommends) and shouted at them ‘No! Go away!’ the little girl looked like she was going to cry, I felt like I was going to cry, they had been following me for 10 minutes I felt attached. I walked home feeling really guilty.

Paul and I were walking along Marine Drive and a little girl, no older than three years old started begging, 'No mama, No papa, banana’ she kept on repeating. She followed us for miles, when we sat down, she sat down, we got up she would follow. When we decided to sit down for a while and take in the view she grabbed Pauls hand and started looking at it with amazement and comparing it do her own. After about 20 minutes another little boy came over and started pulling her hair and I presume asking her to go with him, she wouldn’t leave Paul, and I actually wanted to keep her. In the end the little boy sat down, he was clearly angry but when he saw her playing Patti cake with Paul he just wanted to join in. It was obvious from that moment that they didn’t want to beg, that was what they had been told to do, they just wanted to play.

These are just a few examples of when I have been begged at and I’m sharing them with you because if I would have known the extent of it and how much it does effect you emotionally before I moved here then I’m not sure If I would have.

Right no more serious stories now. I’m done. 


  1. Hi, I moved to Pune, (not far from Mumbai) this January and begging is also an issue here. When I first arrived, I was hounded as well. I found that the more I acknowledged the beggar, by saying 'No' or 'Sorry' the more they hassled me and some children would even follow me into shops! So now I've learnt to just ignore them, give no eye contact or speak, just walk away fast with a purpose and they give up. Now all the locals know my face they don't even bother me now. This treatment may sound harsh but it may help you to relax and enjoy India a bit more, it really is a fantastic place to live. I know the poverty is really hard to accept and can be upsetting but to help out your conscience a bit you could always volunteer for a charity that helps the local people, like I do; or donate a small amount of money to one; a little really does go a long way here.

  2. I completely understand the culture shock and sadness of beggars. It really gets to you. Ugh, what a sad reminder as I have 7 weeks til I am back in India! On sad/funny/inappropriate thought: when I first went to India, I took a friend with and after the first 2 days around Delhi she asked, "Do Indians do a lot of camping? I have seen a lot of tents around!" referring to all the slums. sometimes the culture shock/sadness gets to you so much, you have to find something to laugh about. Like the totally agressive scratching teenager - yikes!

  3. Seems like you enjoy the good life. As a shopaholic, I suggest you pick up a copy of Indian mags, if you havent done so: Living etc, Elle decor, and Good Homes. They are filled with NUMEROUS stores / restaurants for you to try out.

  4. Uh, I commented on the wrong post (earlier comment).

    Pay no attention to beggars. It is a fact of all third world countries. Not just India.

    BTW, beggars love the way they live - they love to be free. There have been many efforts to integrate them, and they have felt abused with rules of society. Beggars are ppl who refuse to take responsibility and are v.happy with their setup. They are v.well connected and know resources to get food. It is other poor ppl like household help, farmers, and other working ppl under the poverty line who have many worries, and struggle to make ends meet. The poor working have no sympathy for beggars.

  5. I understand, after nearly 6 months I get that this is part of everyday life here, but I don't like it. I wrote this post as I wanted people who are thinking of moving here to know that its not all fun and games and somethings are hard to laugh at. (I think you can tell by the blog I laugh at most things) x

  6. Finding work in mumbai is not hard. Even an illiterate individual can make 4000-5000/month in mumbai doing odd jobs here and there.

    But for some reason, these beggars don't participate in the traditional 9-5 jobs.

  7. I am an Indian living in Mumbai too. And I am telling you girl NEVER EVER give anything to those beggers, forget about emptying your pockets. Begging is a profession here in India and a very profitable one. The amputees you see have been "made" that way through surgeries. The kids telling you "No mama, No Papa" are "trained" to say that so they can earn better. And they are specifically told to target foreigners and whites. So beware. This is one thing about my country that I am not proud of.

    Try and learn to ignore them as Ray Day has said above. Its a business for them and you are a customer. Ignore eye contact and make sure you keep your windows closed when in a taxi. You may have some nasty experiences or some chain/mobile snatching happening.


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