Wednesday, October 22, 2008

No Handouts Please

This happened last week in Pinang. I was traveling with my parents in Malaysia.

One evening, right after sunset I was walking back to our hotel from an internet cafe. My parents were there waiting for me to go to dinner.

That part of Little India in Georgetown has had Indian descendants whose ancestors go back 200 years. The music shops were blaring Tamil movie songs, and there was the smell of cooking from all the street vendors. It had just stopped raining and the temperature seemed perfect.

On Lebuh Penang, I noticed a grocery shop adjacent to Ananda Bhavan restaurant. I decided to go in to get some bottled water.

A barefoot young woman in her early twenties in a light blue salwar approached me outside the shop. It was getting to be dark, but I could see that she was of Indian descent. In her left hand she was carrying a few packets of something that she was trying to sell. She spoke to me in Tamil.
“En pullaikku kaadhu kethakudhu aiyya. Konjam vangunga aiyya.” (My son cannot hear. Please buy this, Sir.) I had no interest in buying whatever it was that she was selling, so I shook my head no and entered the shop. When I walked out with the bottled water, she was still there.
“Konjam vangunga aiyya.” I pulled out a small Ringgit note from my pocket to offer it to her.
“Aiyyo, kaasu vendam aiyya!” (I don’t want your money, Sir!)
I tried reasoning with her. It looked like she was selling packets of incense sticks.
“But I don’t want those, miss. What will I do with them?” I said, offering her the note.
She looked at the money and looked at me. Then she shook her head, turned and walked away. I walked back to the hotel.

It is because of her moral stance that I remember her. I regret that I didn’t try to find out what she was selling instead of trying to give her a handout. Whatever it was, it would have cost only a few Ringgits and would have made no difference to me.


  1. Thanks for sharing, life, so many things it means to different people.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Mridula. It bothered me for some time that completely unintentionally, I had been patronizing in my behavior.