Stepping into the shoes of a beggar


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 09 Mar 2003

Posing as an Indian 'holy man' M. KRISHNAMOORTHY took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur with a begging bowl and found that Malaysians are a generous lot

FOR about three hours last Friday, I stood at various spots in Kuala Lumpur holding out a begging bowl labelled “Charity”.  

Dressed as an Indian holy man wearing a saffron-coloured vesti (sarong), white kurta shirt and an orange turban, I started the day by positioning myself opposite the Federal Hotel from 10.45am to 11.15am. As I stood there, City Hall enforcement officials and three patrol cars whisked past but, perhaps out of respect for my religious appearance, they left me alone. 

Tourists and the well-dressed upper class people along Jalan Bukit Bintang smiled politely but they just walked off, which prompted me to move to the Bandar Taman Tasik Selatan LRT station. 

ON THE STREETS: Krishnamoorthy 'begging' at Phileo Megan off Jalan Ampang. He collected RM41 without uttering a word.

As I observed the people who were putting money into my bowl, it struck me that it was those from the middle and lower strata of society who were more giving, dropping coins and RM5 notes.  

I maintained absolute silence as I held out the bowl, which may have been why most people were respectful towards me. A few, however, were bold and even cracked jokes at the expense of this “beggar''. 

Noticing my priestly (swami) attire, a taxi driver at the Pekeliling bus terminal laughingly shouted at me in Bahasa Malaysia: “Give me a four digit number.'' 

His taxi driver friends and other bystanders laughed while I walked away from the bus terminal. 

“Hey! Don’t walk away. I am serious. You give me a winning number, I’ll give you money,’’ yelled the taxi driver. 

When my editor asked me to pose as a beggar for this story, I agreed for two reasons. Firstly, it would serve me spiritually as it was an excellent opportunity to puncture my ego and practise humility on the job. Secondly, it offered an opportunity to investigate the issue of begging and bogus beggars.  

For this I begged bare-footed until I could not tolerate the heat of the tarred roads after 3pm.  

Apart from the places I have already mentioned, I also took my begging bowl to Phileo Megan complex off Jalan Ampang (before lunch and at 4pm), and the Great Eastern Building, where I stood in front of the Alexis restaurant. 

The lunch crowd in the Ampang area were very sympathetic although they initially gazed at me with suspicion. Maybe the silk saffron sarong and the unusual turban that I was wearing looked a bit suspicious. 

On average, I spent about 30 minutes to an hour in these places, standing most of the time. I only sat down when my legs got tired. 

Unlike a destitute beggar, I was fortunate to be able to move to different places in style with my colleague (reporter). At one stage, he commented: “The public may suspect that I operate a begging syndicate, dropping you off and picking you up like this.’’ 

I also had to take cover as soon as I recognised friends or people whom I had interviewed previously. One such person was National Union of Plantation Workers executive secretary A.Navamukundan. As he kept looking at me, I looked the other way so that he would not recognise me and ask why I was begging.  

A group of girls passed by and I listened closely to their chatter. “Poor man, why eh!’’ 

Then they made a U-turn, dug deep into their purses and dropped some coins into my bowl. 

A few people, after walking off for some distance, also returned to drop some coins. Others wished me good luck or said thank you as they made their contributions.  

They may have thanked me because I gave them the opportunity to help a “holy man”. 

All I did was nod my head and bow courteously in gratitude.  

The sense of compassion and concern at times moved me and there was an o ccasion when I wanted to hug a student who returned to drop a few coins. 

But I had to remind myself that I was a “beggar’’ and beggars do not hug donors. 

At about 4pm I was worn out and decided to sit down in a squat-legged position. 

This time the public were not as responsive. When they failed to drop coins, I stood up and the contributions started again with people of all races giving their little bit to help me. 

It was evident that they did not care about the race and creed of the beggar, as the 50 people who gave to me that day comprised Malays, Chinese and Indians.  

I am confident I would have collected my target of RM100 if I had boldly stood in crowded places such as the Ampang LRT station after office hours. 

 

  • M. Krishnamoorthy got RM41 in three hours. The money will be given to charity.  

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