I still remember that day in Haridwar when my friend made the mistake of giving alms to one beggar. Within seconds, so many beggars had materialized from thin air, around us, that we could hardly move. Why they do it will always be a mystery - I am sure that, thanks to the fact that anyone giving alms is bound to be pestered by everyone seeking alms in the town, people are being warned not to give alms in the place. If the pester level were lower they could well be getting more alms overall. But, then, I suppose that hunger is a thing that focuses you exclusively on short term goals. And, in any case, it is not like they can do a study on which option would yield the most alms in the long run.
What is less understandable is the behavior of NGOs dealing with the needy. In the past, I had given a donation to one of them, with the intention of doing it annually. Six months down the line, I get a call about a special program that they were running and a requirement for some additional donation. Being a shade flush with funds on that occasion, I made the mistake of acceding to that request. That opened the floodgates of the deluge. I get a call again the next month and I said I was unable to help them. For the next week, I ended up getting calls two to three times a day telling me, not in so many words though, about how cruel I was to deny the benefits to the poor children by not sparing my cash.
My heart can bleed as much as the next guy for the plight of poor children but that does not mean that I feel like I have snatched food from their starving mouths. The one thing I hate is being guilt-tripped by anyone. If I give donations, it is because I want to do it and not because I feel guilty. The nobility in giving, according to what I have learnt, lies in feeling grateful for the opportunity to help someone and not in feeling guilt. Someone trying to guilt trip me into doing something arouses my ire. I forthwith told him that I shall never donate a penny to them again and, thereafter, anyone who called citing the name of that NGO was met with so rude a response that they stopped calling me. Persistent blokes, though! It took me a year of incessant rudeness before I got them off my back.
The damage was done, though. I seem to have, apparently, been included in the list of likely donors in some master database used by all NGOs. Calls kept coming in from others and, scarred by that experience, I kept refusing. They may not have got a donation from me but they ensured that I donated liberally to Airtel, since I travel out of town very frequently and they never stopped calling even when I was 'roaming'. (There is another mystery. How is it that promotional SMSes from Service providers turn to promotional phone calls when you are 'roaming', but that is another issue.)
It is not like I do not want to be charitable. The problem, though, is that I do not want to turn the 3-4 calls a week from NGOs to twenty calls a day merely because I donated to one of them. (DND? I am registered but it hardly seems to help) Call me self-centered, if you will, but that is the way it is. If there is some way to ensure that I can do the one without being afflicted by the other, then I can restart charity to NGOs. Else, I shall have to restrict myself to what I do - helping those around me.
I may or may not want to be considered benevolent but I am sure that I do not want to be considered prey.