Friday, February 3, 2012

My friend, the beggar of Manju Ka Tilla, Delhi, India

In December and January I spent three weeks in Delhi and Bodhgaya, India. These were three of the most wonderful weeks of my life. I really love India, and I felt so at home there.

The first week I stayed at the New Peace House in Manju Ka Tilla, the Tibetan enclave in Delhi.

Manju Ka Tilla is an enclosed series of narrow streets, and alleyways, with apartment buildings, and one square, where there are two temples.

It's such a magical place.

On my first day there, I met a beggar. He had very thin legs, supported by a plastic contraption, probably the result of polio, which hasn't been eradicated in India. This man started walking beside me at one point. He was mumbling something, but I couldn't make out what he was saying. It took me a minute or so, and then I realized that he was asking me to buy him a blanket.

When I understood what he was saying, there was no choice for me. I was so overwhelmed, and on the verge of sobbing.

Along the main street in Manju Ka Tilla, there is a long row of vendors. Many of them sell colorful blankets. He and I and stood side by side, right next to the stalls of women with stacks of blankets piled onto wooden tables.

So I said, yes, I'll buy you a blanket, and we walked over to one of the women. I asked her how much the blankets were. She said, 300 rupees, and I told her that I'd like to buy one. She asked me which one I liked, and I said, oh no, it's not for me. It's for him. Gesturing to the beggar, I asked him which blanket he liked. He picked one out, and I paid.

The next two days, I saw him a few times. Each time, he was so happy when he saw me. One of the times he was sitting on the walking bridge that connects Manju Ka Tilla with the neighborhood across the busy road, Punjabi Basti. He smiled, and reached his hand out. My friend! I was also very happy to see him, smiled back, and shook his hand. That was the last I saw him.

He told me he had a wife and two children. The day after I bought him the blanket, I noticed that he was wearing a new jacket that looked like leather, and I wondered if he'd traded the blanket for a jacket. But I didn't care. He must've needed a jacket. I wondered if he really had a family, or if he was just saying this so that I would buy him a blanket. But I didn't mind.

There are always beggars sitting on the bridge from Manju Ka Tilla to Punjabi Basti, many of them in worse condition than the man I met. Some of the people have open sores. There are children, mothers, men, all of them rather dirty, and genuinely in need. In fact, Delhi must have hundreds of thousands of beggars.

Whenever I gave a child a coin, a package of cookies, or a bunch of bananas, he or she was always so happy. The child would skip, or trot off in joy. It was really satisfying giving something to children in India, just to see the joy on their faces. It made me happy, too.

There are a surprising number of people in India with deformed legs, many of them beggars. It didn't occur to me while I was there that they had polio. Now I realize this to be the case. I couldn't understand how there could be so many people with emaciated and deformed legs. Someone told me that they'd all been maimed by a kind of mafia that then coerces them into a life of beggary. I'm not sure about this, but there certainly are many people with polio.

The people in India are really beautiful, though. It's a wonderful country.

I am looking for a job now, and I hope to find one soon so that I can start saving up for my next trip to India.