What do you do when a beggar begs you for money at a traffic signal? I know a lot of people who have a strict anti-begging stance and will not give money ever. There are other people who always give. Me, it depends on my mood. When I feel s/he seems sincerely unable to make a living otherwise, I give. Else, I don't. Of course, I don't always analyze like that. Many a times it also depends on how much accessible change i have.
So one day, at a traffic signal, there was this man selling boxes of facial tissues. The easy-pull boxes that people generally keep in the car. I don't recall whether we had some in the car already or not, but not buying atleast a box from the man, made me feel terribly guilty that day. Here was a man, who was actually working for his living. I could easily afford that one box which would have probably made his day, may not have, but it would have contributed to hard earned money. And I had a use for the product. But I didn't buy them. And I drove on ahead. And felt guilty. And then in due course of time forgot about it.
A few days back at the same signal I saw a man selling the same thing again. I did not know whether it was the same person, but here was my chance to work off the guilt of that earlier day. Then I saw that there were two of them. So I asked the guy standing at my car for the price. Three for a hundred, he said. That was a tad too much. I asked for just one. He gave me the emotional rigmarole, as a result of which I ended up buying two boxes for 60 rupees. All this while, the time spent in bargaining, haggling, fishing out for money, fishing out for the change, was enough for the signal to change colour to green. The man behind me started honking incessantly (see this for more on that) but I was helpless till I received my change. This was when the second guy realised he had a chance. I drove on (while the signal was still green) with him following me by the window, till the signal turned red. Meanwhile, honker behind me gets stuck in the second round of the signal, and is presumably (and understandably) heaping curses on me. Seller 2 wished to sell me more boxes. I told him I couldn't buy any more. Emotional rigmarole again then. He told me how seller 1 had now got his boni (first income of the day) and that he would also get his if I bought some. I fell for the tale within a few seconds (we're talking traffic signal cycles here.) Bought one more box from him for a 30. He asked me to buy another and this time I gave him my piece. I told him that even I worked for my money. It doesn't come easy. He didn't want to hear more. This time when the signal turned green I was ready to move. I gave way to the guy behind me, who in turn gave me the dirtiest glare he could.
At the end of it, I had mixed feelings about having helped someone (in a good way) and having been vulnerable enough to fall for all that they said. I could have done my bit with buying just one. I wished to give them the benefit of doubt. But I couldn't say. They'd probably had their boni and much more by that time of the day. But I couldn't say. I now have 3 boxes in the car. I will eventually use all of them so it's not a waste. I looked at the price on the box (late, I confess). Rs. 50. I wonder what I'll do the next time around. What would you do? Continue buying? Buy more? Buy less? Never buy again?