They were standing on either side of the door, two on each. They had on white Shalwar Kameez and checkered scarves on their shoulders, They were old, genuinely or artificially; no on really knows. These men were four of the uncountable beggars present in every metropolis of Pakistan. They were like sentries, carefully scrutinizing every person who went through the middle and into the store.
One may ask, why were they watching, not begging? The beggar of Pakistan is not just a poor person asking for alms. They are elusive entities, psychologically enhanced beings, whose skills of people-watching are at par with those of a seasoned le Carre spy. There have been in-depth investigations pertaining to their lifestyle, and some of these reports have claimed that there are trunks full of cash at these beggars’ abodes.
In america, the beggar is usually the homeless person who sits there dejected in dirty clothes, reeking of garbage, and people give him coins out of sympathy. In Pakistan, one might say it is cold-hearted of us, but the common man has no sympathy for these professional charlatans who are taking away the respect of the genuinely poor from the people’s eyes.
Back to my observation of these four old men. What they were looking for, were people, usually women, of a specific type. Rich, filthy rich. Filthy not just in the sense of preposterously rich, but people who have black money. People who are guilty of the money they have because they have gotten it from shady sources and from taking away the rights pf the others. These people, out of guilt, give ridiculous amounts of money to these beggars just to soothe their conscience. And these people are never-ending wells of money for the beggars of Pakistan.
Just as I was thinking all of these philosophical thoughts and shaking my head at the con-men known as beggars, a well dressed young woman came out of the shop and handed currency notes to all four of the sentries. She went away, but I was still watching. I saw one of them take out a wad of cash out of his pocket and add the measly 20/- Rupee note to the 500/- and even 1000/- ones.
It’s now time for some statistics. The average person in Pakistan has a job with a salary of some 30,000/- Rupees (approximately 295 USD) and according to my observations and calculations, the average professional beggar ‘earns’ at least Rs.3000/- DAILY. These beggars have no off days, so 3000/- multiplied by 30 days of the month, and we have an average salary of Rs.90,000/- (885 USD).
Now one can understand why there are at least 50 beggars in a one kilometre radius in my city. And there are even beggar ‘agencies’ operating under the nose of our corrupt police department. If any one has seen the Indian film Slumdog Millionaire, they are already aware of the heinous underworld practices these ‘agencies’ are a part of. These agents even pick up and drop the beggars to their reserved places, as I have seen many times with my own eyes. The agencies carefully cultivate a set of optimum beggars and then release them into the metros, like one would cultivate pearls and sell them on the black market.
And that is the ugly truth of beggars in Pakistan. This is the story behind the four sentinels guarding my neighborhood’s grocery store…