To America, a Message from a Beggar

Jatinder Singh Bedi | June 20, 2017 05:16 PM

A Message From Mr Fred, A Beggar

By Jatinder Singh Bedi

I interviewed Prasar Bharati's CEO. Exited Indian Consulate. Walked across to Michigan Avenue. And my feet came to a screeching halt.

Tucked into a parapet, reclining against a huge road-side planter, sat a man; motionless. A blanket wrapped around his legs insulated him from Chicago's dropping mercury. A large-size empty, soiled, soda glass hung from his right knee. It was his begging bowl. He was begging. Adoring a sports cap, his gleaming eyes were all that was visible.

Rest, all-of-him, hid behind a homemade shanky sign-board. He very firmly held it. "MAKE AMERICA KIND AGAIN" this board read. The thought-provoking one-liner literally arrested my attention. “A man so powerless; and, a message so powerful?” I brooded. The gush of the Chicago winds pushed me into the Starbucks across. And thru the glass pane, I continued to glance. Thoughts rippled. Prasar Bharati interview got pended. This beggar became a priority.

In fourth minute, an elderly woman plopped a Dollar note in his bowl. Anyone who would read the sign gave him money. Two young girls have him a box of food as well.

I walked up to him and introduced myself: “My name is Jatinder…Jatinder Bedi; from India.”

“I am Fred,” he replied, hurrying to spell it in a purely American style. Indians are very good people, ….very family oriented. I have an Indian in my neighborhood, he added.

“Do you have a place to live?” I asked. “Of course I do, Government has given me a one-room apartment that it gives to the homeless. …but I have to pay the bills. And that’s how I come here. Two months back I had a kidney transplant! Am doing good now.”

“What’s this written on your board?” Coming to the point, I asked.

“I just wrote it. That’s the way I feel. There is so much noise around. …people are agitating, …people are protesting, …there is so much anger. I think we need to do better,” he replied while asking me to pronounce my tongue-twister name again.

“Do people pay you much?” I asked wondering if it a sale point. “Not exactly, but if someone reads it, he stops to pay!” Mr Fred exclaimed adding, “Last week and old man gave me a hundred dollar note! People do like my message.”

“A guy read this, got inspired, got stickers made, and started distributing around me,” Fred said. He pointed to one heart-shaped red sticker stuck to his board. The sticker read: “MAKE AMERICA LOVE AGAIN.”

Now, here was America well-described: A President wants America to be “great” again; a passer-by wants to America to “love” again; and, a beggar America to be “kind” again. It was as if the encapsulation of the State of the Society.

Human virtues of kindness are preached world-over. But a beggar finds them a miss in America. He sits talking of such ethics across the street from America’s iconic Tribune Tower. If the virtues of greatness, love, and kindness are missing, then what is that exists? Perhaps Chicago’s own Earnest Hemingway has the answer in his novel masterly The Sun Also Rises that would perhaps quintessentially define today’s modern Jake Barnes and Bret Ashley.

राह में आयें जो दीन दुःखी, सबको गले से लगाते चलो

प्रेम की गंगा बहाते चलो

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