Beggar’s Syndicate – Namaste

He stood out among the line of desperate people. It was the baby in his arms that drew me across the street. Was it alive? I couldn’t tell. The flies crawling over its lifeless face might be a sign. Then again, flies were crawling over everyone, everything. I spent my first few weeks in India, forty years ago, swatting them away until, like everyone else, I just ignored them.

The child was motionless, its eyes bulging out from a bloated face showed no signs of life. As I approached, his boney outstretched hand beckoned for an offering. “Babaji, Babaji,” he cried moving his child to a more prominent position between us. I heard it often, Babaji, an appeal to the Immortal Master for relief from earthly pain.

I didn’t have much money, even less with me that day, but found a coin deep in the folds of my pocket. As I pulled it out … “That’s not his child!”

What? Who?

A young, western woman close to my 28 years of age stood beside me. “That’s not his child,” she repeated. “He gets a new one every day from The Syndicate.” The puzzled look on my face spoke the words I could not get my mouth to form. “Come back tomorrow. You’ll see. He will have a new baby. This one will be dead.”

She turned and was quickly absorbed by the rushing traffic of people passing by, leaving me confused, uncertain. I looked down, again, at the boney outstretched hand, the lifeless creature cuddled in his other arm. The hot, Indian sun beat down on us. How desperate must a man be to bring his child out into this heat? My 50 paisa coin, small and inadequate for the moment might provide some help for this family. The nagging words, “That’s not his child” were still ringing in my head when I noticed it …

His sandals, tattered and worn, were certainly second or third owner hand-me-downs. The dirt covering them could not hide it, something was not right. I stood up, removing my coin from within inches of his hand. Looking down the long line of desperate people, all of them barefoot or wearing the flip-flops common among the poor, it became clearer to me; sandals, even old ones were rare among the most desperately poor.

An elderly woman, hunched over, caught my eye. Unlike the others, she was not calling out to the passing traffic. She sat quietly in her space.

I approached her. Still, she did not look up. Only when I sat in front of her did she raise her head. Her eyes had little life, her worn, wrinkled face emotionless. I held out my meager offering.

“Namasté” was all she whispered before resuming her hunched position.



While my first book, XNOR, is Sci-Fi and British Colonial historical fantasy, it was heavily influenced by my time living in India as a young man.


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