A few moments later we loaded the man into my car and drove to a friend’s hospital. I had already called my doctor friend and told him we were coming. The poor man cried behind on the rear seat, and we knew he was in great pain. At the hospital, a nurse with a wheel chair was already down, and we lifted him gently from car to the chair.
As we did, we noticed that one stubborn hand of his, was not being too helpful in holding onto the wheelchair, but was going in a spastic like movement back to his shoulder. Irritably I put his hand down, as it didn’t help in his being lifted up, but again the hand moved jerkily to his shirt. We watched as with a tremendous effort he dipped his fingers into his pocket, took something out and slipped it into my hand. Startled, I looked at what he had given; it was a five-rupee note. Both Vaishali and I had tears in our eyes. I slipped the money back into his pocket as he was taken up for treatment. A little later as we drove away, we were quiet, “You know something,” said Vaishali, “I nearly burst into tears when the man pulled out that money! That was all he had, and he was giving it to us, for helping him!”
“I wish I had not given it back!” I said, “That was his dignity, his self-respect!” His clothes were rags, hair straggly, coarse beard unkempt. Must have been a rag picker who a while earlier had sold some small scrap to get that note. But it was important for him to give it to me saying silently, “Thank you for helping me, but I am also a man just like you, with my own self-respect and dignity!” I think these are the words that the poor are saying to us. “We are not beggars! We work hard just like you, and even make money for your businessmen. We are not blessed with your gifts or your talents that will help us make money quickly, but we have our dignity.”
That man on the street, the poor in their shanties, your driver, your maid, the one who lifts your garbage demands respect. “We don’t want your charity, just treat us equally!” My thoughts return to the destitute man from the streets, the fiver he laboriously pulled from his pocket, I wish I had been sensitive enough to have taken his money; I would have helped him keep his self respect intact.