Of Begging and Memories of Another Day

Today was supposed to be a sting operation on our own people… some of the older Hakki Pikkis who still consider it their duty or dharma to continue to beg for a living. And try to evade the long arm of the law while they are it.For the archaic Anti Beggary Act, a tool to criminalise the poor, is indiscriminately  used to pick them up from public places wherever they are found soliciting for alms. They are thrown into the disreputable Beggar’s Home where they are treated like non humans….their head shaved and fed food that is simultaneously consumed by worms. They wait for somebody from their family to come and meet the authorities, grease palms and testify in the Court that although beggars, they do have homes and families they can go back to. And that they will not be public nuisances occupying pavements and existing as eyesores, exposing the not so clean and beautiful underbelly of the urban metropolis.

And so we go to the Bannerghatta National Park the old and happy hunting ground of the Hkki Pikkis. It is, being a weekend, overflowing with tourists….local and global….children and aged. Lining up for the safari. Eating fruits, ice creams. Buying bric a brac.




We spy  the veterans Ankere and then Parvathi who are briskly going about their business. They obviously do not want us to capture them on camera. So Vinod keeps out of sight. Our reassurances that we will not use this to “expose” them to the authorities do not hold any water with them. We cant blame them. They know their occupational hazards best.


Ankere comes up to Amelia and me, grumbles about the way life is treating her, about her son, about her daughter in law and then darts away to waylay  a prospective client. Her instincts/experience are bang on. He parts with a generous note that she accepts impassively. Parvathi rushes out of the park as soon as she sees us saying she has an emergency of the gastronomical kind. She has come a long way since she and her husband Laila had embraced alcohol with the spiritual power it wields. They drank their way through the birth of four children who grew up relatively wild and then one day sobriety dawned.  Thanks to the desperate efforts of Laila’s sister Kotangere, who dragged him to several Gods and Goddesses until one of them showed mercy and cured both of them. Today they are cold sober and back to work. Laila, to the multiple invisible things that the Hakki Pikki men do to earn a living even while looking like they are on a permanent holiday. Parvathi is back on duty in the Park. They must have done something right with the children too. They have grown remarkably well. The older daughter is a wise and confident young woman ofcourse married and “settled”, while the older son has grown into a smart young lad who is doing well with his studies and in school. None of them wish to join the family business of begging. And are even a bit ashamed of their parents for continuing to do so.


We leave Vinod to stalk them anonymously with his camera while we melt into the Park to meet old friends and revisit old haunts. Haunts which to my utter shock, no longer exist. Totally disoriented by the development that has happened in the past decade that I have not visited, I hunt desperately for familiar sign posts  to reorient my memories in the present. The bus stop or rather the clump of trees I used to get down at to begin my long trek to the Colony has vanished. I realise that it has morphed into a huge bus bay/commercial complex that makes me feel like we are in Shanthinagar or Shivajinagar or any other nagar…anywhere but a park. The dusty track that used to take us into the Colony through the Park in the days before it became a gated community has also vanished…behind a wall . The sugarcane juice bandis that used to be manned by cheerful young local boys who doled out refreshing juice with a healthy twist of lime and ginger along with local gossip have been replaced with scores of built up stalls dispensing popcorn, chips and dubious handicrafts. No familiar face in sight.

But we finally stumble into the good old Mayura Hotel although the bamboo fence the Iruligas has built around it has long since been dismantled. I grasp at that little straw of familiarity greedily! Am even more happy when a  middle aged man at the counter who came down to take our order for lunch greets me cheerily and asked where I had been all these years!

I am amazed that he is able to recognise me. I am ashamed that I have no memory of his face.

Yes I feel like the aged and lost Rip Wan Winkle!



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