3.2 A Lesson in Life from A Beggar

Meena is a good friend of mine. She is an LIC officer earning a good salary. But there was always something strange about her. She was forever unhappy. Whenever I met her, I would start to feel depressed. It was as though her gloom and cynicism had a way of spreading to others. She never had anything positive to say on any subject or about any person.

For instance, I might say to her, ‘Meena, did you know Rakesh has come first in his school ?’ Meena’s immediate response would be to belittle the achievement. ‘Naturally, his father is a school teacher’, she would say.

If I said, ‘Meena, Shwetha is a very beautiful girl, isn’t she ?’ Meena would be pessimistic. ‘When a pony is young, he looks handsome. It is age that matters. Wait for some time. Shwetha will be uglier than anyone you know.’

‘Meena, it’s a beautiful day. Let’s go for a walk’. ‘No, the sun is too hot and I get tired if I walk too much. Besides, who says walking is good for health? There’s no proof.’

 That was Meena. She stayed alone in an apartment as her parents lived in Delhi. She was an only child and had the habit of complaining about anything and everything. Naturally, she wasn’t a very pleasant company and nobody wanted to visit her. Then one day, Meena was transferred to Bombay and soon we all forgot about her.

Many years later, I found myself caught in the rain at Bombay’s Flora Fountain. It was pouring and I didn’t have an umbrella. I was standing near Akbarallys, a popular department store, waiting for the rain to subside. Suddenly, I spotted Meena. My first reaction was to run, even in that pouring rain. I was anxious to avoid being seen by her, having to listen to her never-ending complaints. However, I couldn’t escape. She had already seen me and caught

hold of my hand warmly. What’s more, she was very cheerful.

‘Hey ! I am really excited. It’s nice to meet old friends. What are you doing here ?’

I explained that I was in Bombay on an official work. ‘Then stay with me tonight,’ she said. ‘Let’s chat. Do you know that, old friends and memories are precious and rare ?’

 I couldn’t believe it. Was this really Meena? I pinched myself hard to be sure it wasn’t a dream. But Meena was really standing there, right in front of me, squeezing my hand, smiling, and yes, she did look happy. In the three years she had been in Bangalore, I had never once seen her smiling like that. A few strands of grey in her hair reminded me that years had passed. There were a few wrinkles in her face, but the truth was that she looked more attractive than ever before.

Finally, I managed to say, ‘No Meena, I can’t stay with you tonight. I have to attend a dinner. Give me your card and I’ll keep in touch with you, I promise.’

For a moment, Meena looked disappointed, ‘Let’s go and have tea at least’, she insisted. ‘But Meena, it’s pouring.’ ‘So what ? We’ll buy an umbrella and then go to the Grand Hotel,’ she said. ‘We won’t get a taxi in this rain’, I grumbled. ‘So what ? We’ll walk’.

I was very surprised. This wasn’t the same Meena I had known. Today, she seemed ready to make any number of adjustments.

We reached the Grand Hotel drenched. By then the only thought in my mind was to find out who or what had brought about such a change in the pessimistic Meena I had known. I was quite curious. ‘Tell me Meena, is there a Prince Charming who has managed to change you so?’

Meena was surprised by my question. ‘No, there isn’t anyone like that’, she said. ‘Then what’s the secret of your energy?’ I asked, like Tendulkar does in the advertisement.

 She smiled, ‘A beggar changed my life.’ I was absolutely dumbfounded and she could see it. ‘Yes, a beggar,’ she repeated, as if to reassure me. ‘He was old and used to stay in front of my house with his five-year old granddaughter. As you know, I was a chronic pessimist. I used to give my leftovers to this beggar every day. I never spoke to him. Nor did he speak to me. One monsoon day, I looked out of my bedroom window and started cursing the rain. I don’t know why I did that because I wasn’t even getting wet. That day I couldn’t give the beggar and his granddaughter their daily quota of leftovers. They went hungry, I am sure.

 ‘However, what I saw from my window surprised me. The beggar and the young girl were playing on the road because there was no traffic. They were laughing, clapping and screaming joyously, as if they were in paradise. Hunger and rain did not matter.

They were totally drenched and totally happy. I envied their zest for life. ‘That scene forced me to look at my own life.

 I realized I had so many comforts, none of which they had. But they had the most important of all assets, one which I lacked. They knew how to be happy with life as it was. I felt ashamed of myself. I even started to make a list of what I had and what I did not have. I found I had more to be grateful for than most people could imagine. That day, I decided to change my attitude towards life, using the beggar as my role model.’

 After a long pause, I asked Meena how long it had taken her to change.

‘Once this realization dawned’, she said, ‘it took me almost two years to put the change into effect. Now nothing matters. I am always happy. I find happiness in every small thing, in every situation and in every person.’

 ‘Did you give any gurudakshina to your guru ?’ I asked. ‘No. Unfortunately, by the time I understood things, he was dead. But I sponsored his granddaughter to a boarding school as a mark of respect to him.’

– Sudha Murthy