The Beggar Boy

by Sat Mandir Singh Khalsa (Virginia), Grade 12 Miri Piri Academy, Amritsar, India, December 10, 2006

"A few weeks ago, during a so-far uneventful G.T. (Golden Temple) trip, I was walking along, minding my own business, when I suddenly felt a tug on the side of my chola. I looked down and saw a scrappy-looking beggar boy about seven or eight years old staring up at me, hand outstretched. He looked pitiful. He had long, greasy hair that was draped sloppily over his face and almost concealed his big, round eyes, which portrayed an emotion of deep sorrow. A tattered hemp shirt that was much too small for him was pulled as far as it would go over a cavity of a stomach, which indented his skeletal frame. Covering his twig-like legs was a pair of old, hand-me-down trousers that were torn and faded from generations of use. His feet were shoeless and calloused from many years of walking barefoot through the rough streets of Amritsar. From head to toe, he was covered in a thick coat of dirt and grime that darkened and splotched his skin.

He was repulsive, and he’d touched me! I felt contaminated. I quickly turned and hurried back up the street. Pausing at a nearby shop, I bought an ice cream, thinking it might help purge my mind of the dirty little boy. It didn’t. I kept thinking about those big, sad eyes staring up at me. Why did he make me feel so guilty? I wasn’t responsible for putting him on the street, for forcing him to beg. I hadn’t hurt him… but I hadn’t helped him either. He was in need, but instead of feeling sympathy for him, I felt disgust, as if he didn’t have feelings, as if he weren’t human. I was angry with myself. How could I have brushed him off so easily, without a second thought, as if he were some insect crawling up my leg?

I finished the ice cream bar, bought a second for later, and continued on up the street. About a hundred feet away, I came to a second shop. The storefront was packed with MPA students, all matching in their blue cholas with miniature adi shaktis patched onto the sides. Each one had a five or a ten or a twenty rupee note in his or her hand and was jabbing it at the men behind the counter, hoping to catch their attention so that THEY would be first to be served. I realized how awfully rude this was and made a mental note to myself to be a little more respectful in the future.

I turned away from the shop and continued on my journey up the street. I heard someone call out my name. Still walking, I looked back over my shoulder to see what he wanted. I never found out. Just after I had turned around, my legs hit into something and I had to stumble forward to prevent myself from falling. Startled, I looked down and standing there before me was the little beggar boy, in exactly the same position with his arm outstretched, palm cupped, staring.

My first thoughts were similar to the ones I had had during our previous encounter, but I soon silenced my mind and took control. Remembering the ice cream bar in my pocket, I took it out and handed it to him. His eyes instantly illuminated, and he smiled so widely that I could see tops of his gums. In the blink of an eye he had the ice cream out of its wrapper and into his mouth.

A few seconds later, I was surrounded by an entire posse of children, all looking at me hopefully. I turned back to the shop, ordered ten more ice creams, and began handing them out. The rest of the children’s reactions were similar to that of the first. One by one they took their treat gratefully, being extremely careful not to drop it. Then they slowly licked away, savoring every moment. When they finished they skipped away, rejuvenated and content. As I watched them go, I realized how such a small sacrifice on my part could make such a large impact on others less fortunate."

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