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Sunday January 19, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday January 19, 2014 MYT 8:28:22 AM
by lee chee ho
Don’t assume: That person asking for alms may not be the beggar you think he or she is. – Filepic
Sometimes, help comes from the most unexpected of sources.
IT is a fact that we all make prejudicial judgments. We have all, at some point in our lives, had a negative gut reaction to people who are different from us. I admit I have done it, prejudged people and formed impressions about them from their outward appearances.
On one occasion, though, I learnt an important life lesson about doing this.
This happened to me one Sunday afternoon when my friend Ganesh and I were shooting the breeze over coffee in a kopitiam. A wizened Indian man with dishevelled hair and threadbare clothes approached our table. Without saying a word, he stretched out his hand between us with his palm out, asking for alms. We abruptly stopped in the middle of our conversation to look at the elderly stranger.
I shook my head and my friend waved him off. The old man just smiled and walked over to the next table. I thought to myself, that man must be a lazybones just waiting for handouts. Ganesh and I resumed our confabulation. Then, while we were sharing a private joke, I felt someone tapping my shoulder. When I turned my head, I saw the same Indian man. Thinking that he was asking for money again, I became quite annoyed. I glared at him and shouted, “Go away. I’m not going to....”
Before I could finish my sentence, he pointed his scraggly finger at the back of my pants. I tried looking over my shoulder to see what it was all about. When I couldn’t see what he was pointing out, I used my hand to feel around and my wallet jutting out precariously from my back pocket. Only then did I realise that the stranger had not come back to ask for money from me. He was actually warning me about my wallet, which was about to drop out of my pocket. If not for his kind deed, I could have lost my wallet that afternoon. With the same feeble smile he had given before, he slowly walked away.
At that moment, I felt both guilty and embarrassed at judging that poor Indian man. I told Ganesh that I needed to be excused for a while as I wanted to say sorry and thank the kind stranger. “C’mon bro, just ignore him. They are all the same-lah. If you give him money, I’m sure he would splurge it on cigarettes, or maybe even alcohol.”
I did not listen to my friend’s advice and instead rushed out to look for the man. He was tottering along a lonely lane a few shops away from the kopitiam. I walked up to him, apologised, and thanked him. He didn’t say a word. Then I decided to reward him with RM10, but he refused to accept it. Strangely, he asked for just RM5. He told me he wanted to buy something to eat. Then he thanked me and staggered off.
After Ganesh and I bade each other goodbye, I walked to my car and was about to get in when I saw the Indian man again. This time he was sitting outside a 24-hour convenience store, eating. He had bought a loaf of bread, a cup of kaya (coconut jam) and a small packet of fresh milk from the shop. When I saw that, I was glad that I had not heeded Ganesh’s advice.
While munching his bread dabbed with kaya, he noticed me across the road. He raised his arm to greet me. I returned the smile and waved.
About a week later, I was standing on a shop verandah waiting for the rain to stop so I could get into my car.
“Hello,” someone greeted me. I turned around and to my surprise it was the same Indian man, holding some pieces of corrugated cardboard under his arm. He introduced himself to me as Vishnu. We exchanged pleasantries and as we talked, I learned that he collects cardboard and does odd jobs in the neighbourhood to earn an income. Vishnu told me that, normally, he doesn’t beg, unless he is truly desperate. That Sunday afternoon, he had been really hungry and only had a few sen on him.
The rain was abating, so I decided to take my leave of him before the rain got heavy again. “Take a piece of my cardboard to shield you from the drizzle,” Vishnu suggested. I turned him down because the cardboard was a source of livelihood. But he insisted and said, “Just treat this as my repayment for your kindness the other day.”
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Tags / Keywords:
Lifestyle, Heart & Soul, prejudice, judgements
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