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For This Writer, Gratitude Is the Best Possible Holiday Gift
In Sivanandanagar

Five years ago at this time I was in Rishikesh, India. I spent most of December there, almost until Christmas, visiting a swami who was a good friend to the Pay It Forward Foundation, a group that I founded, based on my novel of the same name.

One day I was walking down the street in Sivanandanagar and snapped a photo of a woman holding her sleeping infant girl on her shoulder. The woman turned and asked, in broken English, if I would give her a rupee so she could buy a chapatti for her daughter. She wasn't begging. I'd traveled enough to know the score on this type of transaction. It was a fair trade: She was giving me the photo opportunity in return for a ridiculously small fortune (about 2 cents). It occurred to me that, had I refused, quite possibly her daughter might not have eaten that day.

She was one of the richer people I met on the street during my stay in India. She probably didn't have to sleep on the stone steps by the Ganges river, wrapped only in a thin blanket. She had not been forcibly handicapped to enrich her begging opportunities.


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