I went out to get some change. I had only 500-rupee notes, and I owed a guy 44 for laundry. It's late at night, most things are closed, but there's a little ice cream shop across the way selling gourmet deluxe ice cream for 39 rupees. (it's only so expensive because it's on Park St. in Kolkata, which is sort of like Park Ave. in New York.) Well, it would get me some change, and it sounded kind of nice; I mean, I like ice cream.
And a beggar guy came up saying how he's trying to get food to feed his children, and I can go buy him the food, he doesn't want money, etc. His name is Sunil. Of course he's lying, but there's that little bluebird of doubt: maybe he's not. I'm in India; who knows. I can go buy him the food. I can see him get some food. I can hand over only enough money for the food. And it would also get me some change. This bird's voice was quite amplified by the fact that I was going to buy a scoop of gourmet ice cream. Suddenly that seemed rather trivial.
We pass some kids sleeping on the sidewalk, who Sunil says are his. And we walk to the place, it's a little run down 3-square-foot hovel where too many kids and adults are wolfing down dal and a couple dudes are cooking chapati over charcoal. And this is the point I don't know exactly how to manage, and therefore this is the point when I get screwed. There's a flurry of Hindi (Bengali?), and somehow Sunil has a bag of chapatis and says it's 150 rupees ($3). I balk, because 150 rupees could buy about five street meals. Of course, I want him to have about five street meals, or at least three, given that he has two kids. If he said one meal was 30 rupees, I'd give him 180 and say "get your kids breakfast tomorrow too." But it's just some chapati! So Sunil says "Oh, I forgot, the chicken" and soon he has also two clay containers that I assume contain chicken. This is still not even close to 150 rupees, but we're getting within my margin of error. I hand over 150 rupees.
Immediately I regret it. There is no way this cost 150 rupees; I'd say 50, tops. Therefore, I am conned somehow. At best, Sunil and his kids ate, and Sunil and the restaurant split the 100 extra rupees. At worst, Sunil just handed the chapatis and chicken back after I walked away, Sunil and the restaurant split 150 rupees, Sunil spent his half on cheap hash, and his kids still didn't eat.
Okay, of course I'm angry, and of course there's nothing I can do about it. Luckily it's only $3, but I feel used.
How can I prevent this in the future? The solution I'd like to adopt is, when approached by a beggar, to categorically yell angrily and move as if to hit him; perhaps this would convince some of them that not all white people are money bags, and that there might be some negative consequence to trying to run their scams. However, this solution is rather uncouth, as well as disastrous if someone is actually honest. I guess the best solution is to just categorically refuse beggars.
It's like an essay I was reading about people who are angry about new changes in video games. Instead of posting on forums about how awful the new change is, they should just stop playing. It doesn't get you any of the "satisfaction" of venting, but to vent and continue playing only signals that you don't really mind the new change. And nobody listens when you vent, and venting does nothing to you besides make your anger worse. Similarly, anything I do besides simply refusing beggars will only make things worse.
Okay okay, so it took me 25 years to learn that I shouldn't give money to beggars, okay, no kidding. Well, I've finally learned it! Sigh.