It was all very new to her. Three women with infants came running behind them.
Vidyaroopini tugged at her mother's blouse not knowing what to do. She kept
staring at the women and the infants who were
crying non-stop. "Don't pay any attention to them," said her mother, quickening
her pace. "The longer you do, more will arrive," she continued as she dragged
Vidyaroopini along. Those women did not stop. They kept trailing them but
shifted their pleas towards Vidyaroopini. She smiled at them and whispered
'hello' to the one closest to her.
Vidyaroopini's mother kept on walking till
they reached the shopping centre. The women were chased away by the security
guards as cool air and chirpy chatter greeted their entry. "What do they want?"
she asked her mother.
"They are beggars. You don't entertain them," her mother explained.
Vidyaroopini eyed her mother, puzzled. She was always taught to help the poor
and needy and what her mother now said contradicted all her learning. She
slurped on her chocolate milkshake and pondered over what her mother had just
"How will they survive if we refuse to help them?" she asked. Her mother
stopped browsing the racks of shimmery silk blouses and knelt down holding her
"What they earn is not exactly theirs. I was told the ringleader takes it
away from them at the end of the day. Apparently, there is one in each street!
If you really feel bad, we can buy packets of food or even clothes so the women
and children could use them, and not have to give them away," she suggested.
The shopping centre was filled with people all merry and laughing. Walking to
the glass panels, Vidyaroopini looked out at the dusty streets and searched for
the beggars who had followed them. They were nowhere in sight but there were
others who wore tattered and torn clothes. They were going around the locals and
foreigners stretching out their arms. They were pointing to their stomachs and
mouths when they made eye contact with the foreigners. The security guards did
not move from their stations till the foreigners walked towards the shopping
The chocolate milkshake was finishing. Vidyaroopini noticed her mother going
into the changing room and immediately ran to the milkshake counter. She ordered
a strawberry milkshake. "Hurry," she said to the cashier.
A security guard was pushing a young girl out of the way when he saw
Vidyaroopini walk out. She stopped him and stepped forward to meet the girl. She
handed the drink over and motioned for her to drink
it. "Madam, they're not used to these," the security guard advised.
The little girl opened the lid and dipped her nose into the drink. She
giggled from its coldness and used her finger to swirl the thick liquid around.
She took one sip of it and shook her head wildly. She said something in her own
language and dumped the costly drink into the nearby bin.