Thursday, January 28

Boksheesh: The Case of "Forward Asking"

“Apu, ar rong ashe?” Do you have another color?

I spent a decent amount of money buying small gifts from America to give the women at the training center. Each little gift consisted of a tube of flavoured lip gloss and sparkly post earrings, for 27 women. I bought several flavours and colors, each wrapped and distributed randomly. I decided to do this at the end of the day, knowing what would come..

“Apu, my sari is pink, do you have more pink ones?"

“Didi, I want the red lipstick! She got red, why didn’t I?”

"Can I have more for my sisters?"

The same thing happened when I gave out pictures: one is upset because she only received four when another girl received five, or another doesn’t like the dress she is wearing in a photo and wants a new one. Now, it’s not lie that I have more money, but printing out over a one hundred photos each time (five photos for 20 women), it adds up. How could they, when receiving a generous and spontaneous gift, ask for something more or different?

This also comes up from security guards, rickshaw-wallahs, door men, and other service people. For normal service, nothing out of the ordinary, people ask for boksheesh, a tip. At a bakery, the door man twice asked me for boksheesh. I thought, I've opened the door myself, and are able to continuing do so, you don't need a tip. Even my Bangladeshi roommate find it frustrating to see our security guard ask us for an additional tip for doing his normal job. Why are they so forward? Isn’t a tip something you voluntarily give based on someone’s satisfactory service?

There is no real custom of tipping here. It’s not really common, to give an average waiter an approximate tip of 15%. It is common, however, in Islamic morals, for rich people to share their income with less fortunate people. Remember the five pillars of Islam—one being to give alms? Possibly out of this, a culture of forward asking arose; forward enough to border begging. Of the people on a street at a given time, it feels like 1 out of 15 is a ‘professional’ beggar, especially lining mosques after prayer. They live on the street with their jobs to approach your car or pull on your leg for sympathetic pocket change.

With it being so common, and with so many people and so little money—you have to be unashamed and put yourself out there. Without this bold attitude, surviving, let along crawling out of poverty, might be impossible. When it comes to giving, how often and how much, I supposed Allah will judge you for that.

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