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The Silent Beggar
by Anurag Patnaik
It was the eve of Puja and I had just got my pocket money from my dad. 

With alacrity, I set off to the market to buy a pair of six-pockets which were the fashion statement of the day. It was late evening and the weather was very pleasant. As I entered the market, I was overwhelmed by the huge crowd gathered in the market place. Everywhere there were neon lights and signboards announcing discount, freebies and other such things. People were moving here and there along with their families, carrying large shopping bags. The feeling of joy, enthusiasm and happiness was all pervasive.

Just then I spotted a speck of oddity in this sea of happiness - a poor beggar. He was standing by the footpath a few feet away from me. Out of curiosity I began watching the actions of this man. The beggar was dressed in tattered rags and was carrying a small bag under his shoulder. He was traveling along the footpath and at the entrance of each shop he would wait for a few moments, stare at the lighted interiors of the shop. He would observe the happy people buying luxury goods with money that if given to him would fulfill his basic needs for one full week. After this brief interlude, he would move onto the next shop.

I tried to imagine the reason for this man's pitiable condition. Was he a victim of the recent super-cyclone unable to get enough resources to rebuild his life? Had his family perished in this natural calamity leaving him alone to fight this world? The amount of grief and misery that he must be bearing must surely be beyond human endurance. But it may also be that his sufferings were a result of his own misdoing. But, in spite of such reasoning, I was unable to imagine what could be going through the mind of this lonely beggar as he watched so many people throwing away money here and there when he himself was living on the very edge of poverty. His entire worldly belongings were packed in a tattered bag that was smaller than the shopping bags being carried by the people. His garments would not be acceptable even in the doghouses of these men and women of high status.

As these and similar thoughts were hurtling through my mind, I noticed that the beggar was silently retreating into the huge mass of people, as if to lose himself in the crowd of the more fortunate many. Eventually, He disappeared from sight. Even though physically he is no more with me, or around me, yet the image of those expressive eyes and that sorrowful face will forever be embedded within the confines of my heart.     
11-Jan-2001
 
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