Vantage point

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Hep Bhikari!

If you have any doubts about the fact that America is a rich country, they'll vanish after you see American beggars.

This one beggar looked more like a parking attendant when I first saw him. He was standing outside a Starbucks at Sunset Boulevard, unnecessarily guiding people parking their cars. Unnecessary because the parking lot was half empty anyway. Even my four year old cousin could have parked the car with a blindfold on. This guy was wearing good clothes, a jacket and rimless glasses.

So anyway this guy "guides" us, and when we step out of the car, he shakes a cup below my nose. The cup reads "Vietnam War Hero", a highly dubious claim considering the guy looks just about forty or so. I nod my refusal and start walking away. My friends had told me I was to tip waiters in America heavily, but they had said nothing about well dressed beggars.

This bloke doesn't take my refusal stoically. He follows me and says,

"When I took bullets for you in Saigon, I didn't know you'd be so ungrateful."

I felt tempted to point out that he should talk to a fellow named L. B. Johnson, but my experiences with beggars in Mumbai have taught me that "onward march" is the best tactic to employ when faced by senti stuff from beggars.

The next type of beggars were some people walking around with stacks of CDs in their hands on the Walk of Fame. One guy shoved a CD in my hand and said "Here, sir!". I thought it was a complimentary CD or something so I walked on, examining its cover. The guy followed me saying "That'll be two dollars, sir!". Promptly I handed the CD back to him and kept walking. Now it was his turn to pull some senti.

"Oh so you have no qualms paying hundreds of dollars to Spielberg and Nicole Kidman, but you can't spare two bucks for an independent artist!"

The most formidable "independent artists" I have seen are those who sing "pardesi pardesi jaana nahiiiiiiiiii" in Mumbai locals. I'd rather give them two bucks.

But all said and done, these American beggars lack the tenacity of the Mumbai beggars, and these American street peddlers lack the sheer indefatigibility of the Delhi peddlers.

I suggest an Exchange Program, under which these 40 year old Vietnam war veterans will beg on the traffic signals in Andheri, and the independent artists will hawk their stuff in Palika Bazaar.

The East really has so much knowledge to share with the West!