India Travelogue, Ep. 2:

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One of the most difficult aspects of traveling in India is the emotional toll on tourists of those who seek money. (I’ve always hated the term beggars.) I’m not trying to make a political or moral argument about society, I’m just saying the experience was hard.

Mostly those who sought money were children, but there were also many women and the occasional disabled man. Their numbers were far too many to ignore and their persistence is remarkable. I had carried a large number of $1 bills for this purpose. I most often gave singles but I sometimes gave as many as five as at a time.

One time, I was approached by a group of boys as I waited for my friends to return to our tour bus. After I gave them each a bill, our tour bus driver chided me. I smiled at his admonition. I have no answer except I dare you to look into the face of need and not respond. I told him there are individuals in America who do the same. Mostly, in my area, they are older men who stand by the interstate exits. And I told him I give them money too, far more than I was sharing with these children.

He asked me to follow him a short distance, where he pointed over a low wall and I saw a group of boys, perhaps 10 or 12 years old, sitting cross-legged on the ground and playing cards. “That’s what they do with your money!” he exclaimed. I smiled again. “They look hungry,” I said.

Of all the experiences I had in India, these momentary interactions where we met eyes and I acknowledged our shared humanity and offered what I liked to think of as a traveler’s gratuity will stay with me most poignantly.

 

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