I came upon this amazing old lady begging on the backstreets of Karachi on a visit to Pakistan many, many years ago. I was drawn by her ‘distinctive’ look. She was more colourful and over-the-top than any of the other beggars I’d encountered. And her personality literally beamed through the filth and squalor that surrounded her.
I asked her if I could take her photo and she immediately struck a pose. She’d been an actress, she told me, and insisted I called her Betty Davis, after her favourite American movie star.
The Pakistani film industry is even more unforgiving of older women than Hollywood, and Betty told me that after the roles dried up, she found herself on the streets. She still performed, she said, singing songs and reciting funny lines to secure an extra rupee or a piece of fruit from the people who gave to her.
Her glasses were given to her by a charity that repurposed unwanted lenses and frames and she loved them. They had made her life much easier. And they had personality, she said.
Her teeth weren’t an embarrassment, they were a point of great pride. Not many women her age in Pakistan could say they still had their own teeth, she boasted.
I’m ashamed to say that when I first spotted Betty I thought she looked like a mad woman. I was tempted just to sneak a photo and carry on. Instead I discovered that she was funny, eccentric and completely comfortable in her own skin.
I’m glad I stopped and got to know her, even if it was only for a few minutes.