By Leona Thomas
I was staying in my friend’s place in the old Tibetan Camp at Majnu Ka Tilla, Delhi and had a choice of just 3 routes to get to the new Camp further along the way. I could take the scenic but very stinky riverside walk and then cut through the park dodging beggars and other nuisances, or I could walk 150 metres along the highway being pestered by taxi drivers, rickshaw riders and tuk tuk drivers all fighting to take me somewhere, each ignoring that I had turned the others down before him… or I could battle my way through the middle – through Beggars Alley.
It all depended upon my mood but normally the least troublesome choice was Beggars Alley. There were professional beggars scattered about, each had their own spot and were there at the crack of dawn! It was the usual Indian begging scene – each man sat in his spot wearing tatty clothes and looking forlorn and self-pitying, and whenever anybody walked past they would motion with their hand to their mouths that they needed money for food. They were playing the ‘poor me’ card.
Most white people only stay in Majnu Ka Tilla for a few days because they are on their way to, or back from, Dharamsala. The buses travel between the two places every day. But I was there for 4 months. And in all that time only one beggar seemed to notice and recognise me.
I definitely noticed him. He had a complete body but his legs didn’t work properly. They were withered and twisted and clearly did not bear his weight. I had seen him drag himself along the ground too; his upper body was strong enough. This man had reasonably clean but cheap clothing on. And he had his own spot too – he was also a professional beggar. But there was something completely different about him.
He never motioned to his mouth with his hand. In fact, in 4 months I never saw him ask for anything. He didn’t beg! But that was not the most noticeable difference about him. You might pass him for months and never notice that fact at all because what really stood out was his face. He was happy.
He was happy in a way that most people rarely experience. It wasn’t just that he had a permanent smile on his face. No. It was that his face was glowing with the joy that was alive within him. He radiated blissful joy as he sat on his little patch of ground by the side of Beggars Alley.
Every time we met we would exchange the greeting Namaste! and smile. On one occasion I had an orange with me and offered it. He took it gratefully. In 4 months I gave him no money.
Then the day finally came when I was booked to leave India. I had to print my ticket in the cyber cafe. My usual cyber cafe didn’t have a computer available for me so I went to the next one I knew. I had to walk right past the happy beggar. I told him, “Today is my last day! I am leaving this afternoon”.
He was very excited to hear this. He asked me if I would like to have a cup of tea with him. Yes, the happy beggar bought me a cup of tea! We sat side by side on a nearby step as a man brought two cups and saucers out from the back of a nearby cafe. I was very surprised – I had expected disposable plastic cups. We sat drinking our chai together.
For the first time in 4 months we finally had a conversation. I discovered his name and found out that he was married and had a young baby at home. I was invited to come visit his family when I am next in Majnu Ka Tilla. But, as if having a beggar buy me a cup of tea was not astonishing enough, I learned that he travels for one hour every day in a tuk tuk to get to work and then takes another hour to get home in the evening. He works 7 days a week in Majnu Ka Tilla. And what does he do? Nothing.
The happy beggar never asks for anything. He just smiles happily and overflows with joy knowing he receives more money in one day than all the other beggars combined receive in a year. He receives so much money from tourists and Tibetans alike that it is worth his while to travel a round journey of 2 hours every day to get there!
What is his secret? Well, if you ever meet anyone like him you will not have to ask that question! He glows with joy and wellbeing and so everybody is naturally drawn to him and wants to give him something, anything! And they give very generously indeed.
The secret to successful begging is not to be found in the hand to mouth begging motion or in the pitiful, mournful face. The secret to successful begging is to make sure you are an energetic match for receiving wonderful things. And Akash the Happy Beggar is a true professional. Our cup of tea together on that dirty step was the highlight of my Indian trip and I look forward to meeting his family next time I am in Delhi…