When my mother and I visited Phuntsholing about a decade ago I was shocked by the number of people walking on the dusty street of Jaigong. It was my first time seeing so many people at a time. Adventure began as soon as our bus entered the parking- four or five Indian men climbed our bus even before it came to complete halt. I thought some bandits attacked us. My mother calmed me down and told me they were coolies.
Once on the street, baggers started bothering us. I was amused while my mother ignored them. She told me that if we start giving money to each bagger we would have to become bagger ourselves by the time we reach the end of the street. She was right; there were many of them to count. However, my mother made exceptions with crippled and blind. She justified, “these are helpless people. They have to beg because they can’t work.” These words became a part of me during all my countless visits to Phuntsholing. Later I was amazed to learn even my wife shared almost the same philosophy. She pitied the man with thin twisted leg at the gate, while she shoo away the able baggers who come chasing us.
Who would expect any bagger in so prosperous place like Wangdue? Worse they come knocking at our doors. Something common in all of them is their mode of begging- all of them have taken religion hostage. They fake themselves into goemchens knowing our weakness for disciples of god. Three years ago I would be kind to them, inviting them in for tea. As a child I have learnt that you should never turn away a person who comes asking at your door. And now that I know who they really are, it leaves me with no good reason to be kind to them.
They are ordinary villagers who come on business trips. While they are around they just take out their dirty maroon kabney and start going from door to door. The prayers they say contain no word, it’s all murmuring sound. In their hand they will show their collection wrapped inside hundred ngultrum note- look what they are after? From some we can smell alcohol at a distance. And towards evening you would see what your money has done to these men- they will be sleeping on the road with flies all over their faces.
They are strong able men and they can work for their food. But how can we deny them alms when they come at our doors. But despite our complacence some of them are way too demanding, leaving us regretful of what we gave and fearing that they might curse us.
“Paow, only Nu.10? You are a civil servant and you should be better of than this.” Demanded one gomchen at my door.
And I told him, “You should be happy I gave you so much. Why don’t you earn for yourself?”
He turned furious and replied, “How could you scold me for Nu.10? How do you suppose you will gather merit by that?” which is when I asked, “How much do I have to pay to gather merit? Is there a fixed rate? Am I asking for discount?”
He left shouting, “pa pa pa…” That was his third visit in half a year and perhaps the last because next time he comes I am going to slam the door at his face, I know god will forgive me. In Phuntsholing, even a coin means a lot to a bagger and here baggers are beginning to claim their share out of my salary.