Earning One’s Livelihood
Long ago, one evening I was waiting for my train at Kanpur Central station. To pass the time, I bought a magazine from a vendor and took a nearby bench to read peacefully. Suddenly, I was interrupted. I looked up to find a middle aged woman, dark complexioned, slightly stocky, selling small copper tooth picks and ear picks roped in a small ring. She pleaded meekly, “Saab le leejiye…ek rupaye ki do.” (Sir, please take it…one rupee for two).
Since I did not use such things, I said, “Nahi chahiye,” (Don’t need) and got back to my magazine. But she did not leave. She repeated her request, and I, my refusal. But the buck did not stop there. She insisted many times and I resisted, wordlessly. Ultimately, her desperation broke out. She blurted, “Abhi koi bhikhari mangega to ussey ek rupiya de denge, aur main khareedney ko keh rahi par nahin le rahey.” ( Now, if some beggar asks, you’ll give him a rupee, and I am asking to buy but you’re not buying.) Disappointment and sadness writ large on her face. I was stunned by her taunting words, but not angered. Because what she said was a sad reality. Although I do not entertain beggars, who practice it as an occupation, with zero work and all the earning. They are pretty well fed and not at all needy. On the contrary, a large number of those who work really hard are often unable to make both ends meet all their lives.
I instantly fished out two rupees from my purse and asked her for four sets. Now it was her turn to look stunned. I repeated my order quite coolly. She looked at me to see if I was angry. Then hesitatingly, she picked out four pieces from her stock and handed me, taking the two-rupees in return. Then, in a gesture to thank god, and the customer, she touched the coins to her forehead and left with a relieved look.
Her expression was a reason for me too to feel satisfied. Her comment about the beggars brought out the difference between earning one’s livelihood through labour, with dignity, or through begging.. I was indeed amazed at the depth of her thought, which had emerged from her hard life experiences. That moment got deeply etched in my memory and has left a profound impact on my attitude towards such humans.