Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bizarre sightings

When I moved to Denmark in 2007 from Venezuela, my first month here taught me two things. One, that I had somehow managed to upgrade myself from a place where I could afford a taxi to cover a 500 meter distance to a place where I probably would never own a car. And two, that if ever there was a question that required naming two cities that had absolutely nothing in common, it would be these two – Caracas and Copenhagen – with the only commonality being the first letter in their names.

Time moved on, and I soon got over the banalities that had tied me down in Sur de la America. Sure, I definitely missed the crisp tropical weather that came with the whispering winds into my apartment in breezy Las Mercedes directly from the Avila mountain tops that stood majestically in the distance, but life in the classified ‘privileged Europa’ had its perks too. It was nice to be able to be part of four proper seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter – and in that order. It was fantastic to finally have access to a properly stocked desi store that wasn’t run by some wannabe whose roots were in Jamaica but his grand folks had fled India in their teens so he still maintained some impractical adherence to that long lost affection. No. These were places run by hardcore, blue blooded Indians who came from cities called Bhatinda, Patiala and Jalander, spoke proper Hindi and understood the expression ‘Sir ji’. Yes – the proper India. It was like using home made sambar powder instead of the MTR ready-to-use nonsense that foreigners automatically pick up from the shelf. And yes – being able to walk into the Scala to watch a Bollywood movie seemed as easy as grinding up some spicy coconut chutney on a Sunday morning to be had with soft rice vermicelli lemon mix laced with roasted cashew. Yep – I had finally started to live.

It has been almost three years since my life has found this new definition. Travel is a cakewalk since the public transport here is probably one of the best I have seen in the world. Not only are there three various yet immensely effective (by both Venezuelan and Indian standards) modes of transportation but I have had days when I have been out in the city for 9-10 hours yet have returned home feeling as fresh as I had been when I had woken up. Sweat-free and certainly stress-free.

But despite the paradisiacal incentives I seem to have become part of, there are still certain things that do not make sense. There still exist those little pockets of weirdness that has me yearning for, well, more Indian-ness in them. The yearning I speak of, actually, is so morbid and disgusting that I almost abandoned the idea of blogging about it. But then, surrendering to the inexplicable urge to throw it out in the open, I went ahead and penned it anyway.

The theme I speak of, dear reader, is the sighting of beggars in Copenhagen. A few weeks ago I saw a Tamil movie called ‘Naan Kadavul’. It was an interesting flick that focused on the beggar mafia network that is so successfully run in India based purely on the misfortune of the poor and the handicapped. It was sort of nauseating to actually watch the plight of these people who are controlled by money hungry vultures who manage a systemized corporation that ensures allocating of proper begging spots, weekly collection statistics and consistent amplification of the expression ‘the uglier, the sicker, the poorer, the more disgusting – the better.’ A sadistic theory to run a lowly profession.

This made me think about the beggars, if one can call them that, I have seen thus far in Copenhagen. O! Yes! In case you are wondering, as much of an affluent state that Denmark tries to showcase itself as, there is definitely a strong vein of poverty (well, not by Indian standards anyway) and unemployment looking at you for generosity. Each day, as I struggle my way past the ocean of arms and legs at Norreport station, I always see these men and women sitting with their palms outstretched. Then there are the ones who hop on the metro trains and stroll through it requesting everyone there for a hand out. Interestingly there is a good amount of public that actually gives them money. I have, obviously, never given a dime to anyone. Not because I don’t feel like handing out a penny to a Caucasian beggar – which in many ways is overflowing with painful historic irony – but purely because I have never felt that these people look like a beggars! Not with those well stitched corduroy pants and cotton shirts! Sure, they look a little disheveled but heck, that’s me most of the week!

I know I know. Everyone has probably a ‘different perception’ of what exactly a beggar should look or behave like. But being an Indian, I know a little too well what beggars are all about. Begging, as I found out from the aforementioned movie, is a profession there. People are made up, prepared with pre-written dialogs and even given props to ensure that collection is productive. With such a ‘deep rooted’ philosophical approach to begging we have back home, how can I possibly consider a chap, who quite frankly looks like a drunk who is just too lazy to work, a beggar?

Such sightings, among others, are what make me wonder how the same concepts may appear totally opposite of one another when one moves from one city to another. In all my 7 wonderful years in the melting pot of a city called Caracas, not once was I ever approached by a bum or a beggar asking for money. Imagine that! A third world country with no beggars around! Phew! And then I come to this upscale, royalty-rich place like Copenhagen, and I am constantly running into outstretched palms and emotionless eyes. This is just bizarre. Especially for someone who is from India, given its lack of coherence with the kind of social structures involved in the picture.

Maybe India is not so bad after all, I thought. It might still be considered a ‘developing nation’ to most of the world but as far as these things are concerned, we are way more developed than the rest of them!

2 reflections:

Anonymous said...

well dressd beggars! :p cool place!

ShaK said...

@Anon - Thanks for the response. :) It sure is sort of cool to have a decently dressed fella in a baseball cap walk up to you and ask you for alms. :D