Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Kote Gaesh

Calcutta is perhaps the best place to walk around and take pictures I have ever been. It is almost disconcerting how many cool things there are to photograph. Many of the people in the street will actually ask to be photographed when they see you with a camera.

I suppose I should post one of my pictures to accompany this ... but the real point I wanted to make was a bit different. One of the not so great things about Calcutta, with which you are probably already familiar, is the great poverty. I have a rule, which is not such a great rule, and which I occasionally and for no reason will break, of not giving money to beggars. I find it demeaning on both parts, and since I give a sizeable sum to charity each year, I feel I am doing my part.

Some of the people begging are obviously not in real need. One young man pointing at his mouth and asking for Rupees had a fine physique, it looked like he was working regularly (I would say "working out" but that is not likely under the circumstances). Some of the folks begging could well be in need, the women with children, the man with one arm. Nonetheless I don't like to encourage the aggressive dependency they manifest.

I also don't like the habit that some young children have of begging for sport. It is undignified, and annoying. A group of urchins, I think three, all about eight years old (if I have to guess) surrounded me and began demanding Rupees. I said "no, no" and tried to gently push my way through them. At that point I noticed that one of them, more enterprising than the others, had put his hand down my front trouser pocket, where I keep my wallet. Before I was annoyed, that angered me. I pulled his hand out, and without really thinking about it used my thumb to bend his hand into a sort of Kote Gaesh, pressing his palm forward (Aikido devotees please spare me if I am inaccurate or incorrect). He began hollering something that sounded to me (with my ears attuned to Hebrew from my stay in Israel) like "Abba, abba" (father, father in Hebrew). I was twisting hard enough to make an impression, but I had no desire to break his joints, if only because he was just a child.

I guess my goal was achieved, because the kids backed away after I did that, and it seems that they began to mock him for crying out.

Walking away I was troubled. Was that the right thing to do? After all, he was just a kid. But a kid, even a poor one on the streets of Calcutta, has no right to put his hand in my pocket, no matter I am an American with a nice camera, and plenty of Rupees in my wallet. Was it wrong of me to take advantage of my size, and strength, and then add to that a martial arts technique? Perhaps I should not make too much of it, because any adult can twist a child's wrist, but it added to the sense of imbalance in the encounter. An extreme example of something that is most always with me in India.

What do you think?


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