It is the end of February. I am new here. This is my first week. I am sitting on a public bench in front of ‘Le Meridien’ and ‘Dana Hotel’, enjoying the surprisingly cool breeze of the dying winters of Abu Dhabi.
The shade and the sun over here are starkly different. They do not seem to blend seamlessly into the other; there’s no gradual integration there. You step into the sunlight away from the comforting shade and you realize how bad it’s gonna get when summer arrives. in truth, I’m a little scared. I mean, me and excess heat just do not function that well. Add to that the three layers of clothes, tightly bound neck and a stifling suit, boy am I in for a shellacking.
The buildings around me are tall; cars around me slick; and the people around me confusingly minding their own business. Why is that? Why isn’t anybody staring at me? I don’t get it! I mean, I’m so used to it. All kinds of staring. Pakistanis love to stare. It isn’t just women as some people profess, no! It’s everything! Everything is our business.
It’s as Ali Gul Pir would say, ‘Bakri bhi taarunga, kutta bhi taarunga, building bhi taarunga, family bhi taarunga, gaari bhi taarunga‘.
We are a genuinely curious people. Everyone is interested in everything that you do. You, unwittingly, are a goddamned celebrity! And when your business becomes unimportant, you long for that attention. OK, maybe just a little bit. So yea, I am struggling a little bit with this anonymity in Abu Dhabi. I liked it better when everything was everyone’s business.
Blackmail is a very profitable venture to get your hands on something which isn’t really yours. As for our community, let’s just say we Pakistanis have got it fine-tuned to an art. Not just blackmail, every kind of deviously schemin’ trick in the book, or even ones that are not in the book; we know them.
Maybe this is one of the reasons why an average Pakistani must think thrice before parting with its money. The sad thing is, whenever we do part with it for the benefit of others, it’s for a lost cause. My target this time; Professional Beggary!
It’s a thriving business in Pakistan and especially in a cosmopolitan city like Karachi, this profession has struck gold. At almost every other traffic signal, you’re surrounded by a horde of ‘in-needs’ employing various techniques to get you to give something in their direction. They use efficiently memorized stories, verses, songs and ballads to move your supposed heart of stone and get you to have pity on them. Then you think what will become of these poor creatures in this mad bad world and thinking of it as saintly behaviour, you give them something. When you do give something, you are showered with praise. When you DON’T, Oh you should hear’em talking!
Let’s talk about the situation specifically in Ramzan. Twenty times a day, different people come at your house and all of them are in dire need of financial aid. Father, mother, son … some one is always dying and naturally, the poor ones must come on the streets and beg for help (sarcasm). After every Namaz in the Masjid, someone would get up and describe his need to the meditating public. A long line of beggars would litter the entrance to the masjid, depicting sorrow and misery in the hope of earning some cash. Come Ramzan, and suddenly it’s a free license to be out on the streets, spread your hands … and start begging!
I give an impression of myself as a cold-hearted toad that was found under a stone, I know … but let me explain why I dislike this practice so much. It’s not rocket science to understand who is faking distress and who is not. People in need generally don’t go around begging publicly for help, day after day, month after month. They don’t appear in a sacred month like mice from their bills, knocking unashamedly at each door, hunting opportunities to earn like businessmen hunt clients. This is where the blackmail comes in. The problem is; we as a nation are so religiously confused about our responsibilities that we might just about believe anyone. The trump card that professional beggars hold is the ease at which our confused ideologies can be bent or changed. The Muslim part of our community becomes so religiously motivated in Ramzan (not a bad thing); we happily start spending money on fake ‘in-needs’, leaving it to God to credit us for our generosity. Zakat is such a burden that we get it off our chests under the smallest of religious blackmailing. We spend in the name of Zakat, Khairaat, Sadqaat … but it is none of it, if you understand the true essence of its purpose! This kind of giving is for a lost cause. We help people that aren’t interested in helping themselves. Beggary is as much a profession for them as accounting/ engineering / medicine is to us. The non-Muslim community is not free from this plague either. They are emotionally blackmailed by questioning their sense of ethics and human empathy.
I am not against Zakat. I am not against social welfare. All I am saying is, there are a precious few resources to cater to a lot of people in our country. Let’s not waste our sympathies and generosity on people who don’t deserve it. All one needs to do is a little scouring to find people who really need help. Hard to believe, but there are people who still find peace in making an honest living, but lack the resources that could help them go on with their lives.
Providing food would only attract more spread-out hands. Showing them how to be in a position to buy their own food will help our community far more. We must adopt ways to TEACH, not to FEED. Tell me, why would someone in real need cringe and walk away when I offer someone a job instead of money when they beg? It’s the most well known secret that a whole Mafia operates this network of beggars and their earnings per day are quite astounding; it is a well established business. It’s infuriating and quite a revelation to see the preferred mode of aid is always cash. Rarely do they appreciate food, and NEVER a job offer! Most of them are shameless people who’d swear upon anything to prove their honesty, expose their infants to the cruel Karachi sun without clothes on just to portray a more miserable picture. What is worse is they subject their innocent children who are too young to even understand what they do, to this cruel way of life. Most of these children become drug addicts at a cringe-inducing young age. It’s time we start doing a little hard work to help those who really deserve it. I say Hard Work cuz who really deserve charity are NOT on the streets. These beggars; their lives would start and end with the same business, and they will keep on polluting the society with dishonesty, deceit and the general lethargic attitude that has currently gripped the nation.
The beggary business only thrives because of gullible minds that are easy to trick, easy to religiously blackmail. A way out may be to increase social welfare work and direct it towards those who are more focused on self-respect rather than self-pity; who want to stand, not carried through life. People who just need someone to put them in a position where self-sustainability can be achieved. These are the people that could contribute to society and our country as well. They are more likely to be productive for our nation; they may go ahead to form true drivers of change … because hell yes, we need them!
And yes, let’s not be Zakat[Black]-mailed into giving!