‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother! Dad and Son who Lost Legs are now Beggars
Mangaluru: On Wednesday morning I noticed a man carrying another man on his shoulder, and walking towards Mangalore Central Railway station. This scene brought back memories when I had visited ‘Boys Town’ a village in Douglas County, Nebraska, United States a few years ago, and this man carrying his brother on his shoulder matched the logo of Boys Town. Boys Town established in 1917 is the headquarters of the Boys Town organization, also known as “Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home”, founded by Father Edward J. Flanagan, which is dedicated to the care, treatment, and education of at-risk children. In 1943 Boys Town adopted as its image and logo a sculpture of a boy carrying a younger boy on his back, captioned “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother.”
Out of curiosity, I followed this man down the road from Hampankatta Circle and finally met them for more details about their life history. The name of the person carrying his brother is Sunil, while the brother’s name is Pakiraswamy, also escorted by his wife Mallar. Speaking to Team Mangalorean, Pakiraswamy said, ” Seven years ago I lost both my legs in a freak accident in Ballary, when I was operating a tipper was badly hit by a speeding lorry. In that impact both my legs got crushed, and due to financial drawbacks, I couldn’t go in for a surgery to save my legs. With no one to help and with losing two legs there was no scope of getting a job, so I went into begging om Ballary streets- but hardly anyone offers money to beggars there, I moved to Mangaluru five years ago- and I have been begging on the footpath near the railway station and also other locations in Mangaluru”.
In the meantime, I also met Pakiraswamy’s father, Josephswamy who had also lost one leg in a truck accident in Tamil Nadu. For the last many years Joseph has been begging on the railway station footpath, simultaneously he is also a cobbler earning extra money repairing footwear, apart from begging. While Pakiraswamy and Josephswamy have their disabilities, on the other hand, Mallar the wife of Pakiraswamy can’t see well through her right eye, which needs surgery. In all, the whole family is in need of public help to make their living. Even though both the dad and son were earning good when they were employed, but now due to their disabilities, they have been forced into begging, with no other alternatives.
Like tipping, begging creates an unequal relationship between giver and receiver, an unbalanced one-way exchange with the amount of money transferred depending on the generosity and intentions of the donor with the receiver having very little to say. I always have a generous heart towards beggars depending on their nature and condition. And if I feel that the beggars really need help, I wisely offer them money- because there are many other beggars who are fake and just beg to earn income for their daily drinking habits. Moving around Hampankatta and other parts of the City, I see beggars every day, and although I find them annoying, but I always stare at those with especially startling deformities such as grotesquely twisted limbs or too many fingers or broken limbs. I did not feel responsible for their misfortune nor did I think I could–or should–improve their futures.
Of course, beggars are not restricted to India but are found in virtually every country of our planet. I am also most curious about what it’s like to be a beggar, who becomes one and who remains one and how beggars and begging fit into Indian society today. Do the beggars of Mumbai or Bengaluru or Mangaluru have anything in common with the homeless of Chicago or New York City? I have seen through my eyes homeless people on Chicago streets, who are much worse than our local beggars here- the only difference is that they get aid (public aid, Link Card for food from the US government), where here our beggars are ignored.
Begging has always been with us and probably always will be. It may even compete for primacy with the world’s other oldest profession. Perhaps it’s time to rethink begging! Should I be gloomily realistic and propose that with the economy being what it is these days we may want to consider begging as a viable emerging career alternative? If not on the streets, then at least to join the swarms of beggars on the Internet here and here. The way people feel about beggars seems to go broaden the more they’ve been exposed to begging in their lives. On the first contact, they take it very personally, almost as if they themselves are the victims. They experience confusion and fear, especially when confronted and surrounded by a number of clamoring beggars in a crowded Mangaluru city.
Looking at a beggar’s life from the inside like this makes it appear suddenly colorful and a lot less drab, almost enviable, at least for a short stint. Beggars are not doing nearly as well as they once did, however. Since the halcyon days and “due to an increase in mankind’s selfishness and small-mindedness, (the beggar community) feels they are not able to make a living”. But in the case of Joseph, Pakira and Mallar, these people really need help from the society. I did my part as best I could, and also would like to make an appeal on behalf of Josephswamy and Pakiraswamy to our readers, that the duo is desperately looking for two folded wheel-chairs so that they could use for their commute. If anyone wants to generously come forward with the donation, please call me at 8746841856.
I end this column with the lyrics from the song “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” by the pop-group ‘The Hollies’:
The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there
For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
If I’m laden at all
I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart
Isn’t filled with the gladness
Of love for one another
It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share
And the load
Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy he’s my brother
He’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
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