I think Four Annas had quite a collection of these coins which he kept aside specifically for me. When he doled them out, it was more like he was getting rid of them rather than giving them to me for my good.
And then, one day, bigger ‘fish’ came my way.
They came out of the seven-star hotel. She was at least sixty-five, and he seventy. They looked soft and kindly, and they belonged to England or America. As soon as they crossed over to my side of the street, I made my face very pathetic, extended my right hand before them and cried, ‘Sir, Madam, hungry, eat, two days no food. No mother, no father.’
The woman turned to her husband and exclaimed, ‘He knows English!’
‘Where did you learn English?’ the man asked me.
‘Hungry—eat,’ I said, seeming not to have heard.
The woman opened her bag, took out a hundred-rupee note, and held it out to me.
‘Will that be enough?’ she enquired.
I felt elated, but outside I showed nothing.
‘Manage,’ I mumbled.
‘Are you sure?’ she insisted.
I nodded. I thought this would be a good couple to ‘adopt’.
The next day, when they came out of the hotel, I was artfully seated on the pavement against a wall, reading a tattered garbage-top copy of Speak English in Sixty Days.
As I had expected, they were looking out for me. I pretended I had just noticed them, and stood up respectfully.
‘Good morning, Sir and Madam!’ I crooned.
‘How wonderful!’ the man responded.
‘You want to learn? You want to go to school?’ the woman asked.
I was smiling ingratiatingly when the police came swooping down on us with sirens and whistles and batons and whatnots. They started rounding up my colleagues and were heading towards me.
‘It’s the anti-beggar drive before the Commonwealth Games,’ the man told his wife.
When an officer came bustling up towards me, the woman said, ‘We’re adopting him, Officer.’ Just like that!
With a dismissive movement of his hand, the officer remarked, ‘In that case, take him away.’
I was in uncomfortable cleanliness, in uncomfortably clean clothes, in an uncomfortably clean place. In fact, I was in a deluxe room of the very seven-star hotel before which I used to beg. It was late evening, and after being fed the best food I had ever had in my life, I had been put to bed. The old couple were absolutely serious about adopting me!
Lying down, I felt the first pricks of conscience in my life. I didn’t know what the future held for me, but I decided, then and there, that I would have to be honest and trustworthy with my benefactors.
It is at that moment that I stopped being a beggar; and here I am, twenty-five years later, a successful writer with two homes—one in India, where I do a lot of charity work, and the other in Great Britain.