The incident I am going to narrate happened when I was returning to college from my home after my summer vacations. I was on a bus and as usually happens in the city of Kathmandu, a guy with a disability entered the bus and begged for money. It is a common practice nowadays among such people to keep a certificate of their disability issued by the city with them and show it to people before asking for money.
But this guy(let’s call him Peter) had not one but 20 or so laminated certificates stacked in what looked like a hook on his belt-buckle. He very efficiently handed the certificates to every person on the bus and waited for everyone to read it. Apparently, Peter had lost his right arm because it had to be cut because of cancer. Then came the collection part. To my surprise, everyone donated very generously, in fact so generously that I can say for sure that Peter earned at least Rs 200, which is an average labourers daily wage in a span of five minutes.
I fully understand that Peter’s use of innovative methods to display his ailment and his call for help should enable him to earn more than anyone else in a similar position, but why did people feel an impulse to donate so much that Peter earned more than a labourer’s daily wage in 5 minutes. Was his innovation worth that much? Did he earn so much everyday? What must be the maximum amount he must have earned in a day?
All these questions were revolving in my head when two men with a traditional Nepalese instruments called “Sarangis” entered the bus.
They quickly started with their act and sang some really beautiful songs in tune with the Sarangi’s music. Now came the collection part. By impulse, I looked at the guys collecting the money just to see how much they would earn. Surprise Surprise….Nobody seemed to be willing to give them any money at all! They had to literally beg the people to give them any money at all. They hard hardly collected Rs. 70 or so from the entire bus. As I had enjoyed their performance, I promptly took out a 10 rupee note from my wallet and handed it to one of them when my turn came.
Keeping in mind that Peter beat them to the bus, it is understandable that people would naturally be inclined to pay them less than expected but these were not beggars, these were performers. And they were two of them. Does Peter deserve the extra money he got. Let’s look at the hard facts:
- Peter spent less than five minutes on the bus while the performers spent more than fifteen and performed throughout the time period.
- The only virtue Peter has is his disability (if it is a virtue at all) while the performers have perfected the art of singing and playing the instrument through what may have been years of practice.
- The fact that he got there first gives Peter a huge advantage because people don’t like having to open their wallets every time someone comes to ask for money.But the difference we see here is too huge for this explanation to be justified.
Although the whole event might have seemed trivial to everyone else on the bus, it shook me to the point that I sometimes think about it, even when its been over a week. It was a win of charity over virtue, emotion over thought. I don’t mean to be harsh on disabled people but the equivalent of a labourer’s daily wage is too much to give. No matter how much we give to Peter, he will always return to the same bus with the same laminated sheets and he will get his share of money because people do not think too much about these things. Peter operates only in long-route buses because maybe he knows that he can expect a new group of people everyday. I think Peter is so smart, he can try his “hand” at management, hand or no hand.
But the fact is he doesn’t need to, because people will always keep showering lots of money on him because they act solely on emotion. This attitude has to change. There was a very nice line in “Broadwalk Empire”, which goes like this
Charity hardens those who give it and degrades those who receive it.
What do you think?? Do the sarangi players deserve more than Peter or not?