The man who taught me how to give

Published: May 12, 2011
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Being poor does not make you a beggar.

I was not too surprised when I saw the elderly man on the side of the Islamabad highway. Beggars are a common sight on the road and drivers are used to ignoring them. But as I waited at the traffic signal, I noticed the man stepping onto the road. The light had just turned red and the timer had started. He only had a few seconds to get someone’s attention.

Watching him from the car, I assumed he was asking for money, but his movements suggested otherwise. There was no weariness, no weakness in his movements, which is usually associated with people of his age. Rather, he was moving rapidly; as he got closer to our car I saw his face closely. It was drenched, not from the sweat due to the blistering heat, but with tears.

Finally, he reached our car.

Still wondering what he was doing I rolled down the window and tried to hand him some money. But he pushed away my offering with both his hands.

“I don’t want your money!”

Putting the money away, I asked him what the problem was and he told me his little granddaughter had been hit by a “white car” and he needed a lift back to his home, a “kachhi abaadi” some kilometres down the same road. The little girl had been brutally injured and the car that hit her had disappeared. He had no money for a taxi or any other way of getting home. He was too tired and thirsty to walk so far.

The traffic lights turned green and the annoyed, impatient drivers behind us began to honk their horns.

I was stunned. I asked him to sit in the car. On the way towards his house, the man did not say a word to us; he prayed quietly to himself, asking God to have mercy on his granddaughter. Then, he put his hand on my shoulder and thanked me, his voice full of gratitude. I put my hand on his, but couldn’t respond.

After a few minutes, he asked me to stop the car.

I could see a group of people in the near distance, standing outside a small house – the old man’s house.

As soon as the car stopped he thanked me once again, telling me he will pray for my well-being and hurriedly got out of the car. I followed and called after him. Did he need any more help, any money, a means of taking the little girl to hospital? But he took my hands in his and told me that I had done more than enough for him – I had brought him home.

He said he could not accept my money because he was not a beggar. He told me he and his sons were labourers and they would have enough money to get the girl treated. He said:

“Allah has been kind to my family but now we are being tested.”

The brief encounter changed my perceptions about how to help the needy. They are not all the same. They don’t want our money, they are not beggars. They too, have a high sense of self esteem. All they want is a little help and a sense of respect from their fellow countrymen, which we, the so called upper and middle classes don’t give them.

So, the next time someone comes knocking on your window while you are in your car or even if you’re at home, think twice before dismissing them. They could just be trying to reach out to you.

Saad Hafeez

Saad Hafeez

A British Pakistani living and studying in London.

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