A very pertinent question being asked in today’s world, filled with evangelists from all religions and sects, standing on rooftops and on TV, shouting at the top of their voices. Everyone it appears wants to prove to the world that the Gods they sell are the best, accompanied by miracles in various forms. Most of these evangelists, exploiting the greed of humanity, have amassed wealth that even their Gods cannot fathom.
The city of Kottayam in Kerala, which boasts of near cent percent literacy, is better known as the city of three Ls – Latex , Letters and Liquor. It is the trading centre of natural rubber in India and the Indian Rubber Board is also located here. The city boasts of many educational institutions with their glorious past and also is the home for most publishing houses in Kerala with Malayala Manorama and its allied publications leading the pack. It also set many records in liquor consumption, but of late, other smaller towns have leaped miles ahead of Kottayam. The city boasts of many Hindu temples, Muslim mosques and Christian churches that dot the townscape. It is the headquarters of most factions of the Syrian Christians.
Panhandling has been banned in Kottayam since my childhood, but one can always spot a few beggars in and around the town, especially adjacent to religious places of worship. On the days of various festivals in these religious places, an army of beggars, mostly immigrants from the other Indian states, congregate here. It appears to be an organised racket and the way they are moved from one place to another and the methodology employed in locating them at vantage points would put any army to shame.
On a Friday morning, a beggar, desperate to get a few bucks as he was really hungry, located himself in front of a mosque in Kottayam. In the afternoon, everyone came for the prayers (Jummah). (The schools in Kerala have a long recess on Fridays, extending till 2:30 PM to facilitate Muslim students to offer Jummah). On culmination of the prayers, everyone folded their caps, dusted and rolled their prayer mats and went home. No one even bothered to give a glance at the hungry beggar.
On Saturday morning the beggar placed himself at the vantage point of the Shiva Temple of Kottayam. The devotees came in droves (Second Saturday of a month is a holiday for all offices and schools of Kerala) and offered Poojas, Nivedyams and Abhishekams and left and no one gave any offering to the hungry beggar.
On Sunday morning the beggar placed himself in front of the Cathedral. He reached there well before the priest and the church manager could even open the doors. During the Holy Mass, the Gospel reading was from the Gospel According to Saint Mathews – Chapter 25 – Verses 35 to 40. Verse 35 says “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” At end of the mass, the priest in his sermon reminded all the true followers of Christ that they must feed the hungry as it would be equivalent to any offering to the God.
The beggar was full of hope that he would surely get something, especially after the priest’s sermon. The Clergy and the Laymen all assembled after the Holy Mass for the meeting and elected the committee for the coming year and dispersed. No one gave anything to the beggar.
On Monday morning, by about 10′ o clock, the beggar perched in a shady corner, next to the outlet of the Beverages Corporation of Kerala (liquor vent). A queue of about 30 people had already been formed, without any jostling or pushing, awaiting the auspicious time of 10 AM for the sale window to open. The salesman at dot 10 AM opened the window and brisk sales proceeded and more people joined the queue.
By about 11 AM, the beggar found his pan full of money and overjoyed with it, he prayed to the God Almighty. He wanted the God to answer his query as to why He gave him His wrong address. The God appeared in front of the beggar and explained to him the reasons.
“Look! These are the real devotees. Everyone has formed a proper and well disciplined queue which you will never find in front of any other places you had been till now. There is no difference between the rich and the poor; literate and illiterate. There is no segregation along caste, creed or religious lines. They stand in a queue in the most descent manner, braving the storms, rains or the hot sun. They respect each others’ privacy and ensure that they do not even touch the one in the front.”
“These devotees are only asking for what they want and never for their parents, children, relatives or friends. They never request that others should not be given what they want. They ask what they want in minimum words, in a language everyone understands. They neither sing praises about their brand of liquor nor do they sermonise about the evils and the good of liquor. Here there are no VIPs and one does not have to pay upfront at various counters and obtain a receipt for the services. There are neither any commission agents nor are there any long forms to be filled. There is no need for any written application on a white sheet of paper. They never try to bribe Me with their offerings in cash or in kind, without realising that if offered to the needy would be of immense help and if offered to Me would never be of any use to anyone.”
“Hence isn’t this the best place in Kottayam for the God to be?”.
On hearing the reasons given by the God, the beggar asked “Then why did You make me beg around for the past three days?”
The God replied “That is to show you beggars as to where to find Me.”