- In front of what kind of people do they extend their hands and what do they say?
We find them at every signal. Every red light. Outside every mosque and shrine. On roadsides and steps of bridges. In busses. Many times at our door steps as well. Most of the times we choose to look away. Claiming they’re all pretending to be in need and that they do not need our help. Or we delve into our pockets and fetch a 10 rupee bill. A five rupee coin.
Beggars. In hijabs. Black abayas. Tattered frocks. White beards. From a native oldie to a child from outside the state; from an unwashed person with matted hair to a well-groomed person; from a disabled person missing an arm or a limb to a young adult in perfect health, beggars are seen in every colour. Sometimes we give them alms merely to satisfy our own conscience. The fact that they hold a right over our wealth.
Many times they’re driven to beg, some unfulfilled requirements, debts, medical emergencies, sudden financial crisis, and no income due to lockdowns. Crippling circumstances leave these people no other option other than spreading their hands, dupattas in front of stranger men and women. Dependent on someone to have a humble heart and help them out. Dependent on someone’s pity. Other times just business purposes. After all the Kashmiri society is quite lose-handed when it comes to giving alms. Especially on Fridays and during Ramadan.
We admonish them, ask them to find work because they’re able-bodied, listen to their stories, and ask where they’re from and all. We recognize them from far. From their clothes and extended hands. From the prayers of our wellness and success in lieu of a coin, we throw from a distance. We raise the glasses of our cars, turn our heads the other way or the shier ones of us take detours. Better to change the way than to refuse a beggar. Especially if the beggar is one of those who follow you and do not let you off easily. Yet we fail to recognize the other type of beggars.
Clingy. That’s the word most people recognize. People who want to stay with you, even when they are no longer welcome. A handshake longer than necessary. A hug, sometimes forced. An extended meeting for which you were not quite interested from the beginning itself. They do not realize they’re overstaying and bothering the other person. That other people might as well be busy or might have better things to do. Come what may, these people just want to hang around.
The thing is, most of us recognize these clingy people but none of us try to find out why. If we ask them to leave, would they’ve to go back to an empty house? To a house where they’re facing constant conflict with family members or where nobody is ready to listen to their point of view; or maybe they’re being forced into something they do not want to do and are seeking someone’s company instead of wandering on the streets alone to prevent being teased? Would our leaving make them feel lonely? Maybe they didn’t want to hang out with us either but no one else was available and the voice in their head was so consuming that they would do with anyone’s company? Maybe they don’t like small talk either but something is bothering them badly and they don’t know whom to turn to with their problems and whom to talk to? Whom to consider a friend and ask for advice? Maybe they need a little distraction to clear their heads and think straight? Maybe they just need to clear their heads?
Maybe they have no one to talk to; to speak their mind, to talk to their emotions and you are their best bet right now?
Maybe they’ve no one to hug, to hold and cry so while they cling onto you a while longer than normal, they are trying to keep their tears from falling and get a hold of themselves before they face you again? Maybe they have no fancy words or gifts for your farewell and all they can manage is to squeeze your hand a little harder while they walk you to the gates. Maybe despite prayers and tahajjuds’ they need a human touch? They need physical assurance that things will get fine, so when they cannot tell you all that is wrong in their lives right now, they assume that touch a form of reassurance?
Maybe they have been praying for a companion forever and have not been answered yet.
Like people in some financial difficulty have a right on our wealth, the people who have no emotional support and we come to know of this, do they have a right on our time? Are we obliged to provide them with good company and talk? With our time? And if they want, a hug too? Are we obliged to make people feel welcome and heard? That they do not have to be anything special in order to be appreciated, heard and loved?
Maybe we are; maybe we aren’t.
And if we aren’t where do these love and time-deprived people go? Whom do they beg to? In front of what kind of people do they extend their hands and what do they say? “I have got everything materialistically but have no one to hug, can you give me one?” Would any of us oblige? What are appropriate alms for them? Or is there anything like a hug or a conversation that can be considered valid as alms or is it all just fancy? Just a fairy tale?
Or maybe, we are the answer to their prayer for company, for someone to talk to.
Have you imagined this ever? Maybe we are someone’s answer to a prayer when he asked for someone he spends time with, holds hands with. Feels good with.
Hirra Sultan is a Srinagar-based writer. Her works have appeared in many regional publications including The Indus Post, The Counsellor Magazine, Kashmir Observer, among others.