That he was a beggar who could speak fluent English -- in a country where it was a class language to all intents and purposes -- was what probably fascinated the scholar who has since authored 'Find me Leonard Cohen, I'm almost thirty' and 'John Lang: Wanderer of Hindoostan, Slanderer in Hindoostanee, Lawyer for the Ranee', Dr Amit Ranjan.
While the whole country was busy worrying over India’s World Cup cricket match against Sri Lanka at Port of Spain in the West Indies, the scholar was busy talking to the beggar in Connaught Place in central Delhi, the city shopping centre. I happened to be around them, for very early in the match I figured that that the Indian team, riven by internecine conflict, would lose the match and exit the tournament, and the idea was unbearable so I headed out of my house in east Delhi to meet the scholar and his vagrant acquaintance in Connaught Place.
I’m recollecting the incident several years later so there are many things I’m not sure of but I think I remember it right that the beggar didn’t show any interest in me. He didn’t interest me either; the concept of mutual un-interestedness held true in our case.
He was pissed as a newt but still wanted more whiskey. His benefactor, the scholar, plied him with money to indulge him. He was sipping straight from his bottle bought from the off-licence nearby and insisted we drink something too to keep him company. Not sure about the scholar but I definitely didn’t want to drink with someone who metamorphosising into a new person with every sip. If not whiskey we could at least drink a Coca Cola was the new proposition that got our assent. Having bought our carbonated drinks and gulped more whiskey down his gullet, he revealed that apart from begging he also pimped for Russian escorts.
I found the beggar’s blabber quite annoying but that was not the case with the scholar who was all ears. From the conversation I gathered that they had plans to visit his house –- yes, the beggar with the abode! -- in Trilok Puri in east Delhi, some 10-15 kms from where we were. Reluctantly at the scholar’s behest, I hopped into the auto rickshaw. In fact, I was the first to hop in, the scholar was the next at my insistence. No way could I sit next to a beggar stinking to high heaven.
Few minutes into the drive, the vagrant abruptly asked for the permission to kiss the scholar which was promptly denied but the brazenness of his proposition made me sort of shudder. What man in his right mind would say such a thing? Worse, as it turned out, was yet to come though.
As we got off the three-tyred vehicle, the beggar turned filthy-mouthed after the scholar refused him more money. He started rolling on the ground, accusing the scholar of stealing his money to boot. The passers-by did nothing about the situation; they acted as if they saw such scenes every day.
All of a sudden, the beggar changed his tone and started apologising for his behaviour. Before the scholar could bring himself to forgive, the beggar again started abusing him. This back and forth went for a while and finally the beggar passed out. Not long after he passed out, a local told us the beggar lived somewhere around and that he played out that performance with somebody almost every day.
With that information, we rushed out in an autorickshaw thinking what would happen if the beggar dies this time. That we would be accused of one thing or another. A person as alcoholic and base as that can die anywhere, any moment.
The scholar telephoned me the next morning to tell me that he thought his Coke was spiked because he couldn’t sleep all night and that his stomach was in a mess. He also told me that he had read all the newspapers hoping to come across some terrible news vis-à-vis the beggar but that he didn’t find any to his great relief. I chuckled to myself. I’ve not yet told him that his Coke wasn’t spiked, it was his night spiked with fear. Maybe someday I will tell him.
About the author:
Prateek Srivastava has been writing sports articles since 2006. However, he believes he belongs in the literary world.