« Postcards from the edge | Main | Tradition and Women »

Monday, January 22, 2007

Haves... and have nots

One of the many things that has contributed to my sense of 'otherness' and cultural disconnect here is seeing the enormous gulf that exists between the wealthy (or at least upper middle class) and the poor.   Walking down the street you see young and old begging.  All of them are unspeakably dirty and many either have some sort of incredible deformity or are carrying filthy infants around to garner sympathy from passing tourists.

For their part, the locals seem to take no notice whatsoever of these street people and step around and even over them the way you or I might avoid dog droppings on the sidewalk.  I was briefed before my trip to NEVER give any of the beggars money because I would be instantly swamped by hundreds of them demanding handouts. 

Here are two pictures I snapped within moments of one another that I think aptly describe this vast gap  in the social  strata.

This is a beautiful hotel called the Taj in Mumbai.  It is an old Colonial-era building on the seashore that is in the center of a large area where tourists and locals stroll.

As I pulled up in a cab near the Taj a filthy street urchin stuck his head into the window and began demanding a handout. 

India seems to be all about contrasts.

Posted by David Bogner on January 22, 2007 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Haves... and have nots:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Something that I used to do in the States was to carry around canned food or fruit in the car and in my backpack and when people panhandled me saying they needed money for food I'd offer them a can or an orange instead --most of the time they were uninterested in taking them. I think the situation in India is different and these people really are in need. Maybe carry around small candies to distribute for the kids? It is really sad, isn't it? But gah, you can't save the whole world.

Posted by: Yael | Jan 22, 2007 12:36:50 PM

Yael: When I lived on the UWS of NYC I also carried food, or offered to purchase a meal at a deli/corner-store as an answer to the many panhandling requests which I received daily.

Often, these offers were resentfully declined. However, there were one or two "regulars" who deeply appreciated the hot tea/coffee and sandwiches. It was a conscious decision to "spend" a portion of my tzedakah budget in this manner.

It was a rewarding experience. In NYC it was not unusual to be hassled walking home evenings. The "regulars" were often extremely protective of me and my room-mates: on more than one occasion they saw us to our front door when they perceived another vagrant was being more than a nuisance. They also often helped carry groceries and heavy packages.

In addition to the light meals, my room-mates and I saved our deposit bottles/cans and magazines for the homeless on our street. They were able to redeem the deposits and to resell the magazines.

I never wanted to give money as I never wanted to contribute to the never-ending cycle of substance abuse which is responsible for a significant portion of NYC's homeless population. At the same time, I couldn't eat my meals at my window and face those who had little-to-nothing to eat.

Oddly enough, it was the grocers who truly objected to this practice of mine. Many refused to let my "friends" enter their stores with me. I understood their position -- often they were subjected to inventory loss.... but I always found it very sad that many of them couldn't extend even the tiniest shred of dignity to these men and women. Based on my own experiences, I think that they would have received some very unexpected benefits from those interactions....

Posted by: zahava | Jan 22, 2007 1:33:47 PM


I've done something similar. There was an area in north Florida where homeless people would live in the woods. It was a magnet for them due to a nearby rail yard, several truck stops and the intersection of an Interstate with a main four-lane highway. They would come up and beg for money in the parking lots of the nearby businesses. I was well aware that they drank or smoked the money that people gave them. So I would offer to buy them a meal at the nearby McDonalds instead. I did have one guy take me up on that, although he wasn't happy. He readily admitted though that he had drank all his money.

One has to be careful, though. The guy that is pleasant enough one day can turn on you the next. Dope, especially if they're using meth, can make people snap.

Posted by: K Newman | Jan 22, 2007 2:21:19 PM

You know you're a New Yorker when you have your regular homeless person/people whom you support, and thereby feel absolved from helping out others.

Like Zahva, I've often offered to buy food for people. I'd say that I've gotten about a 10% acceptance rate on that.

Posted by: efrex | Jan 22, 2007 2:49:20 PM

Back before I kept kosher, and before I was married, I used to use the coupons in the "Entertainment" book for buy one get one free meals at local fast food places. (Single, didn't always eat right ;-) ) Anyway, one time I had lunch at Popeye's, and got a bag lunch to go, figured it might be dinner or something. I was walking by the library, and a (apparently) homeless man was laying on a bench. He wasn't panhandling, but he did look hungry. I asked if he wanted some chicken. He looked like he was in shock but just nodded. I gave him the bag and went on my way. I just took a quick look back, and he was tearing into it.

Another time I was in Puerto Vallartas, Mexico. (A friend got a free trip for two there). The kids looking for handouts were everywhere. It's heart wrenching, especially when you are warned not to give them money, because they just give it to their parents who then use it for drugs or other things. :-(

Posted by: Nighthawk700 | Jan 22, 2007 3:22:21 PM

Back when I was a religious seeker I spent a few years on Eastern thought. I was quite taken with the idea of reincarnation (recently I was shocked to meet some Kabbalah toting orthodox Jews who also believe in reincarnation ... but that's another story.)

Ultimately I had to reject the philosophy because of the street urchins. Them and the masses of otherwise horrifically suffering people all over India and wherever Hinduism is practiced. A real Hindu will tell you he is not bothered by their suffering because those people are just experiencing their Karma as it has accrued to them at this point in their many lives transition through Sangsara[sp?] (existence).

So much for non dualistic thought. I'll take good ole good and evil and the consequences any day.

Posted by: Scott | Jan 22, 2007 10:29:00 PM

I invited a homeless man to lunch with me and he told me his story. He had had a successful dental practice, home, marriage, boat, and plan. Snorted it all up his nose.

With my help and the help of some others, he got a job and a hotel room. He now has a better job and an apartment.

One victory among a thousand defeats.

Posted by: antares | Jan 22, 2007 10:31:31 PM

My daughter is selling girl scout cookies and one of the people who decided to buy, donated to us ten boxes of cookies to do with as we wish. I was telling my friend, that I was planning on distributing them to some of the panhandlers on the street. She told me that recently she offered some sweets to a homeless person and the person refused, thanking her but telling her that he had too many cavities and had to avoid eating sugar.

I was wondering if David would address the poverty in India. I am glad that he is also balancing out with the beauty so that we aren't left with smelling India through our noses and can enjoy the rose-colored view as well.

Posted by: jaime | Jan 23, 2007 12:47:53 AM

Am I the only somewhat regular reader who was taken aback by the "filthy street urchin" description of a person who looks, at least in the photograph, like a child?

Call me naive but I think there is a distinct difference between the homeless and drug/meth addicted in the US and hungry children in the third (or 4th) world looking for a meal. Perhaps in the future, whilst writing about the "contrasts" in India, something could be included regarding the increasing gulf between the haves and have nots, especially in light of the heavy investment many US and foreign companies are making in India via "outsourcing," and why these "urchins" (a most deplorable term for a fellow human being) don't seem to be posing much of a political threat to the government...as they do in the Western Hemisphere (ala. Chavez, at al).

Posted by: Mark | Jan 23, 2007 7:51:33 AM

I can see my site here in Goa... so we'll see how long this lasts.

Yael... I was told not to give anyone anything whatsoever. There is an organized begging industry here. People with deformities are obviously at the top of the ladders, but people lend out their babies for these kids to carry around in order to get more sympathy.

Efrex... tis ain't New york and it sure ain't Kansas! :-)

Nighthawk700... Our warning wasn't about what they would do with the money. It was about how you would be absolutely swamped by a crowd of beggars if you gave so much as a single coin away to one.

Scott... I can appreciate that your experiences have led you to where you are now. However I am surprised you seem to have allowed conditions in eastern countries to convince you that theirs is not the true religion. If one were to follow that thought to it's logical conclusion, the Holocaust would be a pretty big point against the validity of Judaism.

ANteres... Good on ya!

Jaime... You know mwe well enough that I would have to say something! :-)

Mark... You need to brush up on your definitions before you jump in with both feet. Princeton defines 'Urchin' as "a poor and often mischievous city child". Wikipedia offers an even more detailed but equally benign definition. He was a young boy... filthy beyond description... and his appearance perfectly matched the classic definition of a street urchin. I'm sorry if you felt my description was insensitive... but it was not.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jan 23, 2007 3:58:29 PM

Noooooo. Really?

Posted by: Scott Fleming | Jan 24, 2007 2:21:52 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.