It was my niece’s thirteenth birthday, and I decided to bake a three-tier cake for her. The aroma of vanilla and chocolate filled the air. The sponge was ready; I sprayed some syrup and started coating it with chocolate ganache. Meanwhile, having completed the daily chores, my mother was taking her power nap.
There was a knock at the side entrance, one of the two entrances to our house. I, thinking who it could be, opened the door. A lady clad in salwar kameez, seemingly belonging to a not so well-to-do household, stood there. She had some cash in her hand. Pink? Oh! Rs. 2000 notes. I thought she must have come for the job of house help.
“Yes,” I asked.
She said, “I live nearby. My father owns an almirah business. You must be acquainted. My child is in the hospital, and I have been trying to collect some money, not because we are poor, but we have been told by our Maulvi to use other people’s money for his treatment. I’ll return it in a few days.”
“We don’t even know her,” my mind cautioned. One of my neighbours’ boy isn’t allowed to wear clothes bought with their own money, and we do give them a few bucks every year.
“Sorry we do not know you.”
I was about to close the door when she said, “See,” showing the currency, “all of your neighbours have given me money. Please help me. Please call your mother; she knows me.”
Not sure what convinced me, I went inside and told my mother the whole story. “Give her a hundred,” she said. Reluctant to take it, the woman demanded for Rs 2100.
“Please call your mother; she knows me.”
She entered the house before I could even stop her.
“I won’t lie in this holy month of Ramadan. I swear on my unborn baby,” she said touching her tummy (belly fat perhaps). My mother told her that we do not have cash at home and asked her to take those two hundreds.
“My father owns the store, you can check. We are helpless but poor,” she smirked. She was adamant and kept swearing on the sick child, the unborn child, and on their auspicious month. With magnanimity and empathy oozing out of our bosoms, we gave in to her stories and handed her Rs 2100.
Amidst a downpour of blessings and good wishes, she left with a promise to return. As I closed the door behind her, we felt some trance leaving. I wanted to see what course she takes, but she had already taken a turn to the other road. My mother and I looked at each other with a pricky gut feeling. We had been conned. Well, the whole neighbourhood had been conned. Some people said that these fraudsters have hypnotic powers and you should never look them in the eye, while others feared black magic. Some went to the extent of blaming their community as a whole.
‘God comes in the guise of a beggar,’ a chapter from our Value Education classes, learnt at a very innocent age, remained with me only until that day. This interpretation of the fable, or the mythic trope of a God disguised as a beggar so that he can test mortals, should have been upgraded with time. Each time I see a beggar, especially a female from a specific faith, approaching me, I am reminded of the incident. How we form opinions and struggle to change them even after long!
Well, I hope the Value Education books have now been updated keeping in view the Kalyug. Not sure of the hypnosis, but I don’t look them in the eye anymore.