Seated at the window of my compartment, I kept my eyes glued to the panorama of the outside world flashing by my window. The train was running fast, touching hamlets, small towns and halting at big towns and cities. Then I heard a stream of music inside the compartment. Surprised, I turned my gaze from the outside world to the inside world of my compartment.
My eyes caught sight of a blind beggar playing a flute, moving about slowly in the compartment, his hands stretching out towards the passengers for alms.
Elated by the soothing, marvellous music, I offered the beggar a five-rupee note. But most of the passengers remained insensitive to his flute music and unresponsive to his piteous petitions for charity.
A few minutes later, a crippled lad, aged about fifteen years, wearing a torn shirt and soiled shorts crawled into the compartment.
He had a piece of cloth and began sweeping the floor. After finishing this self-imposed task of cleaning the floor of the rows of seats, he begged the passengers for money.
While half-a-dozen passengers gave him money, the majority did not appreciate his floor-cleaning service and refused to extend any monetary help to him. Some of the grey-haired and cynical passengers even went to the painful extent of making adverse comments querying, “Who has asked him to clean the floor of the compartment? Why should we give him money?”
Agonised by these bitter comments on the Swachh Bharat work of the boy, I dropped a five-rupee coin into his cupped hands.
Then stormed into our compartment a horde of hijras attired in colourful sarees, singing hoarsely, clapping their hands raucously and demanding money from the menfolk. The hijras were initially all at the far end of the compartment. They were demanding not less than ten rupees and were collecting money forcefully from the male passengers. Almost all men including those who ignored the blind beggar and the compartment-floor cleaning lad coughed up money from their wallets.
Flummoxed by this unpleasant scene of charity being coerced from my fellow passengers, I just shut my eyes and drifted into a snooze. By the time I opened my eyes, I saw the train was halting at a station and the hijras were disembarking. Maybe, the hijras, finding me napping, left me undisturbed and spared me the guilt of offering forced charity to the undeserving, demanding beggars.