Beggars don’t want your change

Published: March 20, 2011

"beggars can’t be choosers", except perhaps in Pakistan.

From what I learnt during lessons at school, I was pretty certain that “beggars can’t be choosers”. If beggars could choose, this idiom would lose its essence and we would have to come up with a modified version.

But the following incident made me rethink this saying.

One day, I was at Naheed Super Market running some errands. I was carrying a small amount of cash with me, just enough for the stuff I had to buy. When I was done, I was left with a few coins worth — only about Rs7. I usually keep these coins in a special coin pouch and use them to give to my driver to buy roti for him from the tandoor since he is usually not too fond of returning change.

Coming back to the story, as I came out of Naheed Supermarket, I started walking towards my car. That walk is usually not an unaccompanied walk, for there are quite a few beggars right outside the supermarket.

I was followed by an elderly man. Since this man was quite aged, and I had quite a few bags in my hand, I felt bad not responding to his request for help. I wanted to give him something. So I took out my coin pouch and handed over all the coins I had.

To my sheer amazement, he looked at the coins and started saying things to me with great disgust.

I was a bit taken aback. I felt bad and politely tried telling him that it was all I had at the time. But he did not stop and just kept cursing me. I was totally put off by his attitude but keeping my cool, I told him to return the coins if he didn’t find them useful.

At that very instant, he threw the coins inside the car through the open window and walked away mumbling. I was extremely shocked!

If he really had been in need, even a single coin would have been a blessing for him. But it seemed that he was there for a big business deal – not just to collect a few ‘worthless’ coins!

This incident changed my entire perspective on the beggars in our country. They have opted for the easier way to earn a living. But when money is not earned through hard work, it loses its value.

I’m sure it is not easy to stand in the sun all day and beg. But I feel obliged to rephrase the above idiom. The local version should rather be:

Desi beggars have the freedom to choose”

Shazia Yousuf

Shazia Yousuf

A software engineer who blogs at

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Shahzad S. Janjua

    Two things I would like to say in this regard:

    There is a context of a hadees I remember I have read long time ago, that when the Days of Judgment is near, one will find a person to give Zakat and Sadqat but the person will not find one.
    If God forbids anyone of us, comes to such position that we have to beg, would we run after each car and grab it, or we would try our maximum to avoid it. The point for consideration is, a virtuous honest person would hesitate to beg, I would prefer to give some extra money in my pocket who will be selling newspaper, comb and alike. Rather than who is sitting outside waiting. Because if God forbids, if I come to such a state ever, I would like to sell some small thing rather than put my hands in front of anyone.

    Rest I would say, not everyone is the same!!! Recommend

  • TightDhoti

    One persons actions changed your perspective on beggars in our country? Thats the same attitude people in the West have that if one terrorist happens to be a Muslim, all Muslims are suspect, and what is our reaction to that? Recommend

  • Fouzia

    I tried not to give to these beggars . Instead I try to find people around me who need it but do not ask for it. There are plenty around us “sufaid posh”. We must help them. Say no these beggars if we want to get rid of themRecommend

  • Raj

    How can you expect anything else from ordinary street beggar, when your government and army are also very choosy in their form of begging!!!!!
    The way things are heading, perhaps the country will be educated in the art of begging, rather than reading and writing!!!!Recommend

  • Ali Zaidi

    “This incident changed my entire perspective on the beggars in our country.”

    Bravo for generalizing!Recommend

  • Mike Sullivan

    Are you implying that all of India’s defense resources are indigenous? Or are you better beggars and take whatever you can get?Recommend

  • Talha

    Look at Rajs comment, shamelessness runs in their entire nation.

    They have more beggars than toilets in that dump they call their nation but I guess when filth spews from their mouths then their is no need to toilets is there.Recommend

  • Ibs


    Oh yeah like India doesn’t have beggars right? Pakistanis speak the truth n highlight ills unlike u Indians that turn the in India even a billionaire would run for the coins. Heard of the great Hindu baniya?Recommend

  • TightDhoti

    @Mile, Talha and Ibs: how is point scoring against India going to make any difference? Recommend

  • Sarah K.

    So one dissatisfied elderly man who refused to take your 7 rupees (that you so kindly were saving for your driver’s roti, who by the way never returns your change…how condescending are you madam?) makes you label anyone who begs a slackers (“They have opted for the easier way to earn a living)??

    You have no idea what circumstances led them to humble themselves in front of others day in and day out. Sure some of them are doing it by choice, but please do not humiliate them if you don’t want to pay them anything. Just move on.Recommend

  • Tehreem Iqbal

    @Sarah K.:

    Let me just tell you something, whatever she gave the beggar, was given because she had some money to give someone. If not the driver then the beggar. And if the driver can buy a roti with those coins then so can the beggar. The money was a gift from God which the beggar rudely refused to take. There was no humiliation here. This was 7 rupees and he got humiliated. Think about those who just get a 1 rupee coin or 2 and they accept it with open hands.

    I disagree with your point, Sarah.Recommend

  • Mahvash Nizam

    Exactly the same thing happened with me yesterday and he was just 9 years old boy.Recommend

  • Saba

    Guys i have been thr the same but in my case it was 100 rps & it was an outdated note, i didnt know tht it was unvalid as i arrvd at isl airport. & at another instance a 6ft tall, hail & healthy guy threatened me & my mom to give him alms or v shld b ready for dire results & i was like Piss off u ………Recommend

  • Sarah Haris

    @Sarah K: I understand that 7rupees mean nothing..but for a person having barely enough money or food for daily needs even a single penny should mean a lot to him and he should save it instead of throwing it back.Recommend

  • Sumaira Hasan

    The writer may be mentioning one incident here – but sadly, I have several such experiences. I have given these beggars money, and even if it is Rs 50, they still say it’s not enough and want more – they need to pay fees or buy flour (if they get some more from other people – I am sure they will be able to do so). They just keep on persisting for more and if I say ok if this is not enough you can give it back then I am also faced with the same tirade of rude remarks and “bad-dua’s” – where they wish you ill luck etc.
    I have talked to them and asked them to come with me and I will get them some work – but they just walk away. They prefer to beg for money as they get more that way than do some work. Once I bought an old beggar a shawl in winters since he said he was feeling cold – just to be told by the shop owner that he will simply sell the shawl back for money which he will use for drugs or cigarettes or something of that sort and that he does this all the time – it’s his business.
    If you use the same route to go to work etc – you will see the same beggars on the same signals every single day. It’s their “spot” and at times I have even seen them fighting over their “spot” or territory.
    So ok – one incident should not be used as a generalization – but when it happens all the time – what can I say – it seems more of a business :( I still try to give as much as I can with the hope that 1 out of 10 times I might be helping a needy person.
    The writer might sound harsh in her narration – but basically she is just sharing what happens out in the streets all the time. Recommend

  • Anwar

    The beggars tug on the heart strings of females. They are the cause of beggary in Pakistan. Men don’t give out bheek as much as females. The more you give the more will come. Recommend

  • rabiya

    @Sarah K: ever heard the term beggars can’t be choosers? Beggary, essentailly is not a form of pride, and the basic demand is “give whatever u can”. That same elderly man could have been selling newspapers….or fans or clips or socks, or chaat, or eggs, or even just matches! Has anyone seen slumdog millionaire? It shows what a lucrative business beggary actually is. I’m a true believer of charity, but constructive charity – where you know your money is being put to good use. In beggary there really are no guarantees. If beggars can afford such pride – well what can I say except they should earn their living in a more respectable way.Recommend

  • Dr+D+Mishra

    Raj, from one Indian to another, please no point scoring, it is cheap. We are here to build bridges.
    To the author and others, all of us writing in English here are at the very least lower middle class. We have no idea what abject poverty is all about. While some beggars will be grateful, others may be frustrated by life and their dark side comes out.

    Pl show some ‘daya’ for these less fortunate. Here in the UK, come summer, and thousands of Pak and Indians descend on Harrods to blow lakhs of their black money on an already rich country. A bit of that back home to a good charity or an NGO…..Recommend

  • sharma

    He was a stupid beggar,ashamed of accepting a coin.
    Well in india,they take whatever they get!!but mainly we offer food to beggars who come at home!!

    Its inherent problem in subcontinent because of pakistani policy of acting as a puppet of china which got them in arms race ,which incited pakistan to attach india 4 times in all 4 wars!!

    Pakistan armed forces and its corrupt politicians are involved for the state of indian subcontinentRecommend

  • Ali

    Islam discourages beggary. The Quran and the books of Hadith are full of examples of encouraging followers to take up a livelihood and not to beg.

    At the same time Allah asks us to give to those who ask us for help (Quran 2:177) and to not treat them harshly or rudely (Quran 93:10-11). Some Hadith also ask us to give even if we suspect the beggar is not truly destitute (Muttawa 58.1.3 and others)Recommend

  • saad

    i always keep some loose change with me for beggars, but no one has ever refused to take it. but i think you have kind of generalised all of it here, you cant make a judgement on one beggar out of millions of beggars in our countryRecommend

  • ayesha

    Me and my husband have decided never to give any money to beggars…. when we give them money, it promotes beggary and in return promotes kidnapping of innocent children and much more. Every time I have felt pity for a crying woman begging for Aata or anything, I have only been disappointed, same woman repeating the same the very next day. Its a habit, not a need. What are they teaching their kids? Its insane. People should give alms to their massis, servants, drivers first…. best is to teach their children preferably in a school and manage the fees paying themselves rather than leaving it to their parents. SAY complete NO to Beggars…. its tough initially but when u know, its only for the good then it will become easy. Recommend

  • QuranVsHadith

    ha ha ha ha….you think begging in Pakistan is limited to the people who follow you on the streets? Pakistan is a professional begging nation. The government is ALWAYS pleading with the world to give to us poor Pakistanis who waste the money of hard earned tax payers from around the world on BMW’s and Mansions Abroad.

    Wake up….it is a perpetual cycle with Pakistan. Recommend

  • andrea

    The reality is that we all have to stop giving money to anyone begging because it only encourages more of the same. If you really want to help people, donate to social welfare organizations that will help them in the long run- not just give them enough for one day. Otherwise, Pakistan will wind up with the large number of beggers you see in India. As for money and need, it often has nothing to do with begging. Think about the large number of foreigners, including Muslims, who live on social assistance or welfare in North America and Europe. They have all the basic needs and can work but they still prefer to ask for state social assistance / khayrat. Then when they return to their home countries, they pretend they have fancy jobs abroad!Recommend

  • Bats

    It’s true- i’ve had coins flung back at me several times. not only that, the local hijras throw 10 and twenty rs back also! they say, ‘iss mein kya baney ga’?

    It’s like they think we have pots of money lying around to randomly grab a fistful and shower them with!

    Seriously – one can only begin to imagine what heights beggary rings are going to.Recommend

  • parvez

    Most, repeat most beggars are street performers making a living. Throwing money back is a ploy presently being used to try stir your emotions and it succeeded.
    Next time get a grip and don’t give to the street beggar but give a little more generously to the needy near to you. After all, charity begins at home.
    Liked the way you narrated the story.Recommend

  • Alien

    tell this to our Govt., not much difference between them and these street beggars????????Recommend

  • UM-

    We witness these stuff in our daily lives. I believe this probably defer our sence to give and help poor people. Nowadays, we have to make our mind twice before helping poor to ensure he/she is really needy and deserve any help in the form of zakat etc. This simple discourage us to pay something ! Recommend

  • Confused

    Maybe the beggar had a bad day; he sees you come out of the Naheed shop (which is sorta pricey compared to some other shops) laden with groceries and feels you might be courteous and give him enough for 3 rotis? But a ‘beggar’ does not make ‘beggars’ (generalizing), though I don’t think this blog is that serious in nature.
    Its just an opinion though. I wouldn’t want to think like that about beggars because I am really glad I got to be a spoiled brat, and anything less extravagant scares me. Even joking about it is creepy.Recommend

  • XoXo

    That’s really shocking, Just Speechless !!Recommend

  • CaffeinatedBliss

    Yes, they opt for “the easy way out” when all they have to do is get a job. Would you hire any of them my dear? So, you know, you could maybe hand them a few leftover coins to buy roti? Recommend

  • Maleeha Khan

    Beggers have choice because they are humans… But they should know that if they are begging they should quit hoping for choices…Recommend

  • S. Rafey

    @CaffeinatedBliss: The first thing I ask any beggar on street is whether he or she would like to work and that is the best way to make them run away from you. They freak out at the thought of a proper job!Recommend

  • Agonised Uncle

    Yaar, RafeySaab! Mehnet karney bologey, to har Pakistani na katrayegaa?
    Kyaa sab ko apnee tarah maqool aur paeenda samjha hua hai?

    When our leaderaan and siyaasatdaan and their peekdaans and darwaans and most of the awam has decided to subside on firang hand-outs, why pick the lowest guy on the totem-pole?

    Shahrukh Khan’s character on the screen says: Papi aur papi-pet ka sawaal hai!
    Vhen di sinners een di gorn-ment aynd fauj arr baigging billionz frr-om di whorld, theyn vai bal-ame di meyn far folling thayt ekjample?

    Agonised Uncle

  • Alien

    Very well said uncle.Recommend

  • Najia

    I just read a comment that says “just move on”…but if we keep moving on and not point to the social degeneration (big or small) i think we will keep falling deeper and deeper into darkness as a nation…i think thats what we’ve done so far…just ignored whatever has been happening around us…its time we have to emerge as at least an aware nation…we’ve had enough of this “bikaoo nation” image….i wish we as a nation could stop wanting more and more from our leaders to a beggar on the streetsRecommend

  • Wajeeh Uddin Tariq

    The word beggar use in Urdu as FAQIYR,which is in true sense an acronym for the pious and reverential character bearing the following qualities.
    FA : Faaqa
    Q : Qinaat
    Y : Yaad-e-Ilahi
    R : Rah-e-Allah

    We don’t determine such beggars (FAQIYRs) around usRecommend

  • Samee

    Well, my cousin offered one of these beggars to work at her place to which the reply was, ‘Tankhwaa kitni miley gi’ (The so called needy person gets to choose his salary!) When she said, 4-5k a month, he boastfully replied, ‘Hah! Is se zyada tou mai din mei kamaa leta hoon!’ Which means around 50-75 k per month! The sad part though is that consequently, we have deprived ourselves from helping the ones who are actually needy.Recommend

  • Anwar

    There is only and ONLY ONE WAY TO STOP BEGGARY….Stop giving money to the beggars. There is no other way. I hope my female friends are reading. They give much more than men.Recommend

  • yaarku

    begging is an industry where all the beggars are dropped in the morning by van at traffic signals and in the evening picked back, powerful people run this forget about that it can be finished till command and control system of this industry is not destroyed.Recommend

  • Farah Kaleem

    Well if I were in your place I would have gotten off the car and seriously given him a beating of his life!!! First of all I don’t give any money to the beggars because you and I and even our dogs know that the money will go to the mafia. The mafia has been surviving and prospering because we are so superstitious!! Do you really think that if we don’t give them money some force up there in the sky is going to destroy you or your life??? How many people have gotten jobs or the kind of life they want just because a beggar prayed for them?! Come on… we are way passed all that!! We are the ones to be blamed for their being there in the first place! Unless we educate our masses and rid them of these superstitions this will continue… and these paid-actors will keep on performing the on open-road theaters!! I say next time any beggar returns you the money or complains about it not being enough, beat the sh** out of them!! That’s what these miserable people deserve!! Recommend

  • Farhan Damani

    begging is an art
    and good artists do have some attitude!!!Recommend

  • Abdulla Masood

    This incident has happend with me several times. Beggars make weird faces when you give them some loose change. I remember when I was young a beggar would be happy even of you gave them 2 rupees. Now it seems like a joke to them.Recommend

  • Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    I am sorry Sharma but you might be severely mistaken. This is not a policy of China for arms race, it is India’s own policy. Up until 1960s it was Hindi-Cheeni bhai bhai that ended with Indo-China war of 1962.
    The first Indo-Pak war is dated back to 1948 and despite China’s assurance, Pakistan did not attack India in 1962. 3 years later, in 1965, Pakistan had American arms and not Chinese made weapons unlike 1971 where Pakistan had both American and Chinese weaponry.
    In Pakistan we do not consider Kargil as war but a conflict, so we have an ideological conflict here. The arms race is of India’s, not Pakistan and even now India has increased its Defense spendings instead of reducing them despite slower global economy.
    Now back to the topic. I agree that beggary is now a profession in our country, therefor what you really need is a change of perception.
    Think of them as PROFESSIONALS and what do you do with professionals? You acquire their services. Now these professionals do not provide any visible service except the use of certain well chosen words about humanity, food, hunger, religion etc to melt your heart, a certain type of body language that implies great suffering and, last but not the least, facial expression that would prove they are the most needy people on planet. Considering them as professionals, unless you want to learn their trade, do not pay them since their professional services (probably including Duas) would be faulty and no use to you. Start using logic where required and reduce emotional dominance upon yourself when surrounded by beggars.Recommend

  • imtiaz

    i give only to those beggars who are physically unfit. Recommend

  • farmer

    don’t bring poor islam into it- these are not beggars they are [email protected]:Recommend