Once when visiting my hometown in the Summers I was accosted by a barefoot beggar. I was at a shop buying some ‘Chappal Kebabs’, when an old, frail looking man approached me.
‘Would you buy an old man a pair of shoes?’ He pleaded.
He looked to be more than seventy and very poor. I felt extremely bad to think that the poor old man did not even have enough money to buy a pair of Chappals to walk in and here I was buying chappal kebabs, without a care in the world!
It did not take long for me to take out my wallet and hand him an amount which could buy a decent pair of shoes. He almost snatched the money from my hand, very perfunctorily asked the Lord to keep me happy and disappeared.Meanwhile another customer had arrived and, while giving his order, was also watching my interaction with the beggar very keenly. As the kababi handed me my order wrapped in a newspaper, the other customer approached me rather hesitantly.
‘I don’t mean to interfere but that person you just gave some money to has a larger car than yours’! He said pointing to my almost new Honda City.
As I looked quizzically at him he continued, ‘He is a very rich man and owns cars and bungalows. His sons are also well-to-do and have their own businesses’
‘But…why is he begging?’ I blurted.
‘Well, that’s what he does. His sons try their best to stop him but he still manages to slip out and spends his day begging, barefoot. People respond more kindly when they see a poor, old man with no shoes’. I did spot the same man next day at a different place, again shoeless and begging!
Well if what the other customer said was true and if the old, shoeless man really was a rich man with cars and bungalows why did he feel the need to spend his days walking barefoot and inviting the ridicule or kindness of his fellowmen. Why couldn’t he enjoy the fortune he had amassed over the years? Had wealth become an end rather than a means to an end for him?Why do we need money? What is it that we want from life? The following quote is attributed to John Lennon:
The pursuit of happiness has been the objective of mankind from time immemorial. What will give this feeling of happiness varies greatly from person to person and culture to culture. From the moment we are born to the day we die, we spend all our effort and time in a struggle to be happy. A ‘Mars’ bar, an absent teacher, a visit by a favourite cousin, a good result, a pretty girl friend, a new ipod, a fat bank account, a successful son, a doting daughter, a painless existence and a place in the Heavens are just few of the things that can make us happy in our progression in life.
Consumerism and materialism projected through the media have moulded our thinking and altered our perceptions. Being happy for many now is conditional upon having more possessions. All advertisements entice us to buy stuff we do not really need. Our younger generation has been brain washed into thinking that the more possessions they acquire the happier they will be. Consequently we spend our lifetimes in an endless struggle to earn more money so that we can acquire more possessions.Benjamin Franklin said “Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it!”
Every day when I go to work, usually when I enter my school (where I work as Principal) the first person I see is the Mali hard at work, weeding the flowerbeds or watering the plants.
As we greet each other I ask him routinely, Matloob, how are you?
Matloob is a young man of about 28, still unmarried and quite poor by any standard. Matloob looks up and though he is usually sitting in dirt with sweat pouring off him, says, ‘Sir, I am totally well. God is great!’ and the contentment in his smile is genuine and sincere.
I have a wide circle of friends, most of them high profile professionals. Many of them are multi millionaires and live lives many would give their right arm to live. What do you think the answer is when I ask them, ‘What’s up, how’s things?’
A tirade filled with discontent and dissatisfaction erupts. ‘This country is going to the dogs, the weather is terrible, kids are getting out of control, life is becoming more difficult every day, some bastard scratched the car when I parked it on the street, getting good help is becoming impossible, I’m losing my hair, tummy’s getting bigger, wife doesn’t give me the time of day, the girl friend is becoming more demanding, are just some of the grouches they have while sitting in their air-conditioned homes on their comfortable designer sofas.
Who is wealthier the mali or them, I wonder.I remember a conversation I had with a friend who has a most successful practice as a GP. Though he earns around 25,000 Rupees per day or more, he spends the day cooped up in his clinic and his life revolves around his very lucrative practice. Once I asked him if he got tired of the same routine day in and day out and what his plans were for the future.
He said, ‘Yes, it is very cumbersome but you see I plan to stick to this routine till I am 50. Then I’ll have enough to retire and go on a world cruise with my family’. He was quite serious and I wondered if he realized that his son will not be 10 but 25 by then and may not like to accompany him on that cruise. In fact he, himself, may not be amiable to that particular idea after 15 years. In fact he may not be in this world then!
Pink Floyd sum it up nicely in their song, ‘Time’:
‘You are young and life is long , And there is time to kill todayAnd then the one day you find ,Ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run , You missed the starting gun…And you run and you run, To catch up with the sun But it’s sinking , Racing around to come up behind you again. The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older…shorter of breath and one day closer to death’!
….Continued to Part II