Sunday, March 13, 2011

Perspective - Can Beggars be Choosers?

By: Shazia Yousuf

From what I had learnt in my English language class during school days, I was pretty certain of the fact that "beggars cannot be choosers". For if beggars could choose, this idiom would lose its essence and we would have to come up with a modified version for this. But one fine day, this certainty became quite an uncertainty.

I was at the Naheed Super Market for some household errands. I happened to have very little cash with me, just enough for the stuff that I had to buy. When I was done, I was left with just a few coins totaling about five or seven rupees only. I usually keep these coins in a special coin pouch and I use them for handing over the exact change when I have to ask my driver to buy "roti" (bread) for him from "tandoor" (public oven), as he is usually not too fond of returning the change!

Anyways, as I came out of Naheed Supermarket, I started walking towards my car. That walk is usually not an unaccompanied walk, for there are quite a few people doing their day jobs right outside the supermarket known as begging. So, I was also followed by an elderly man.

Since this man was quite aged, and I had quite a few bags in my hand, I did not feel nice not responding to his request for help. As I sat down in the car, I got this feeling from within to give him atleast something. So I took out my coin pouch and handed over all of the coins that I had. However, to my sheer amazement, he saw the coins and started saying things to me in disgust. I was a bit taken aback. I felt really bad and I tried telling him nicely that this is all I have at the moment. He did not stop and kept cursing me. I was totally put off by his attitude and still keeping my cool, I told him to return the coins if he didn't find them useful enough. And at the very instant, he threw the coins inside the car through the open window and walked away continuously mumbling! I was extremely shocked!

Those coins were extremely useful to me, since I believe every penny counts. As they say in Urdu "qatra qatra banay samandar", which means "droplets combine together to form ocean". But that beggar considered it an insult to take those coins from me and made a massive display of his disgust, as if I had committed a sin. I felt, if he had been in extreme need, even a single coin would have been a blessing for him. But he was there for a huge business deal or to achieve some major milestone for his job and not just collect a few worthless coins!

This incident changed my entire perspective of the beggars in our sacred homeland. They have opted to go for the easier way to earn a living, and when money is not earned through extreme hard work, it loses its worth. Although I feel it is not easy to stand in the sun all day and beg. But anyways, I feel obliged to rephrase this idiom.  The local version would rather be: "Desi beggars have the freedom to choose"! But I suppose the non desi version of this idiom still remains unchanged. Or does that need to change too?


  1. this is the actual reason why the nation is going into deep darkness,we do not value droplets and want to own the ocean,beggars are choosers otherwise they would have chosen some other profession.

  2. This is not something new at all in our homeland :)You are talking about 5-7 Rs in coins - but there have been times when I have given these kind on business men even 50Rs and I get the same reaction that you got with statements such as "is se kya hota hia aaj kal - eik kilo aatta bhi nahin aata" and I have replied in the same way that if you don't need it then give it back to me and I got the same insults etc. So the big question is - how much exactly is ENOUGH for these so called beggars? and in our country they are definitely choosers!!!

  3. Would you believe 20 years back in the late 80's, they used to make some 25 grands a month.

  4. Well, my cousin offered one of these beggars to work at her place to which the reply was, 'Tankhwaa kitni miley gi' (The so called needy person gets to choose his salary!) When she said, 4-5 a month, he boastfully replied, 'Hah! Is se zyada tou mai din mei kamaa leta hoon!' Which means around 50-75 k per month! The sad part though is that consequently, we have deprived ourselves from helping the ones who are actually needy

  5. "Desi beggars have the freedom to choose"! ---- Sadaf, doesn't it reflect our national belief as well?