CHENNAI: It is hard for visitors to the Besant Nagar beach not to run into septuagenarian Govindan, an alm seeker hailing from Villupuram, who has made the Varasiddhi Vinayaka temple near the beach his home.
Standing on the Elliot’s Beach promenade, he lets out a throaty cry to the passersby, speaking just a solitary word, pasi (hungry) and extending his hand.
A local resident, who is walking on the promenade, approaches Govindan and places `20 on his hand, before walking away. Govindan says that he roams the beach twice a day, for a brief time in the morning and a few hours in the evening. On weekends, when the number of visitors to the beach increase, he stays on for a few more hours.
The same can be said for the over two dozen alm seekers who roam the coastline in this part of the city. According to police personnel, they earn a considerable amount of money in alms, as the beach is a posh locality frequented by the high income class. This is turning away quite a few of the regulars, though.
“I visit the Besant Nagar beach because there is not much crowd here like the Marina and is also a better locality to find some peace of mind. But, these beggars interrupt every ten or fifteen minutes,” says K Malavika, a resident of Kodambakkam. Couples who find the alm seekers irritating say they intrude on their privacy and keep on them until they give away alms.“They [beggars] don’t leave when we say no. And if we give them one rupee or two, they curse and leave for giving a menial sum!” exclaimed a couple, who did not wish to be named.
But, these alm seekers who have sought asylum in the temple, may also be a larger part of the destitutes roaming the city, most of whom have been ignored by their families due to old age. In Govindan’s case, he said he doesn’t know the whereabouts of a drunkard son, who he believes to be dead, and a daughter, who is a daily wage worker and didn’t have the means to take care of him.
Police personnel stationed near the beach said that they conduct routine checks to remove the alm seekers from the premises, but that they keep coming back. “These people have families back home with children or grandchildren studying in schools and colleges. And begging here nets them a hefty sum with which they send a share back home,” said a beat patrol person.