The first time I met Prakesh, he approached me on a street in Rishikesh, India.
Our conversation went something like this.
Prakesh: Excuse me sir, I am schizophrenic and I need money for medicine. It costs 30 rupees a day.
Me: I would be glad to buy you your medicine. Can we go to the pharmacy right now?
Prakesh: My medicine is only available at the pharmacy in the main town.
Me:(sensing a scam) Sorry then, I can’t help you.
As I walked away, Prakesh’s perfect English stuck in my mind as I wondered if his shpeal was true or not. The next time we met on the streets of Rishikesh, he was getting ready to go through it again, but Carrie and I went into a store before he got a chance.
By now, Prakesh’s kind, honest and grandfatherly face was stuck in my head and I vowed to give him money if I saw him again. A few days later, I had the chance to make good on that promise.
After giving him a few rupees, Prakesh’s face lit up and he asked what my country was. I told him it was the USA, and he proceeded to rattle off statistics on our biggest city, national debt and the economic situation in other countries high on the GDP list.
Curious, I asked Prakesh how he knew so much, to which he revealed his credentials as a Master of Mathematics from a prestigious Indian university. Based on our conversation, I came to the conclusion that he was a brilliant man who hit some hard times and was left to beg on the street. It made me quite sad.
When we saw Prakesh again a few days later, we were amazed that he rattled off the details of our previous conversation. “Yes, you are from New York City and you are from San Francisco. Very far from each other.” More lovely conversations about the world followed, and we left hoping to run into him again.
Alas, we never had the chance, but the memory will forever remain with me.
Update: April 2013.
My wife, Carrie, recently returned to Rishikesh and once again saw Prakesh. He is still roaming the streets and asking for money for his medicine. Although he didn’t remember us, Carrie was sure to give him many more rupees. This made me very happy.
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