Marrayya was a professional panhandler, a profession he inherited from his mother. Growing up begging with her mother, Marrayya learned by-heart several popular melodies with lyrics changed to suite the celebration of Hindu gods such as Krishna, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Hanuman or a particular Hindu festival. Some times, he made up lyrics on spot praising the devotees to entice them to donate for a just cause of a poor beggar like him.
The temples were crowded on Saturday, a holy day to many Hindus, but other days of festivities also attracted many devotees. Marrayya inherited a space to squat close to the temple entrance from where his mother begged for years before she passed away. He made sure nobody occupied his place, if Marrayya arrived late at his place, no other beggar occupied it from fear of an ugly fight with him.
The temple authorities allowed beggars to squat in rows on either side of the entrance to the temple. Beggars at the beginning of the row stood better chance of collecting donations than those at the lower end since the devotees ran out of their contribution quickly after donating to few beggars at the beginning of the row. Beggars fought for the coveted forward spaces in the pecking order. Some beggars traded their lucrative forward spaces with others for money.
Marayya grew up with chronic hunger. As an adult, he was small and dark skinned with sunken eyes. His un-kept beard and shoulder length matted hair looked more like brown compressed hanging plant roots that gave an appearance of person in perpetual hunger and grief.
Marayya met his future wife Parwathi, “Paru” for short at the temple. She also grew up begging with her parents. Paru was short and brown skinned with her bright eyes could be mistaken for a middle class woman if not for the rags she wore and un-kept dirty hair. Marayya and his wife followed their parents’ footsteps in begging as a full time job.
“Paru, look at her, she is rich and generous, make sure to beg for her sympathy,” Marayya murmurs to his wife pointing to an old lady entering the temple.
When the old lady was coming out of the temple with prasad (flowers and fruits) in her hand, Paru wasted no time to go after her begging for money. “Amma(mother), please look at my empty stomach,” she begged, repeatedly pointing out to her own thin, flat stomach almost caved-in due to malnutrition
The old woman threw few coins into the hand of Paru along with a banana, and walked past Paru, distributing coins to the other beggars in the line until she ran out of the change.
As years went by, Marayya and Paru had pretty good impression of most of the regular temple visitors and their charitable habits. They never persisted on begging those known to give nothing, and focussed on those known to be generous and giving.
On a particular Hindu annual festival, a short woman dressed in silk sari with glittering gold ornaments around her neck and wrist visited the temple. With the look of goddess Mahalaskhmi (goddess of wealth), the woman, a doctor’s wife served steamed rice mixed with vegetable curry to the beggars. On this day, Paru brought a huge empty steel bowl to collect the food from the Doctor’s wife. “Amma , you are Mahalakshimi, with your own hands please drop few more servings of rice,” begged Paru, lifting the container close to the woman.
Few feet from Paru, Marayya pleaded with the woman to help his family eat at least once a day. With both hands underneath a large plastic bowl, Marayya held the bowl up in the air like a person receiving a gift from the heaven. Between husband and wife, they collected enough food to last more than a day.
The temple attendance was poor on weekdays as the devotees, mostly older people trickled in slowly. These devotees sat on the temple stone floors chatting than participating in prayers, and made no donations to the beggars. On these days, Paru sat alone at the entrance of the temple while Marayya roamed the town begging the small shopkeepers at the curbside.
To entice the shop owners to donate few coins, Marayya came out with a simple plan. Since every shop has either picture or small idol of one or more of Hindu gods, Marayya conducted a brief on-site puja (prayer) singing one of his melodies, and lit an incense stick. As the perfume smoke from the burning incense filled the storefront, he prayed loud and placed a flower in front of the idol.