With a reputation for being extremely tight-fisted, a local butcher, who once has to watch like a hawk when it comes to weighing meat, recently started doing something completely out of charac-ter...giving meat away for free No...he is not handing out choice cuts to anyone who asks but, in a cool, back corner of his premises there is now a pile of meat on the bone, albeit more bone than meat but still perfectly edible, and which is far from belonging to the category of unsaleable scraps. Word of mouth being what it is in this increasingly poverty stricken country, the genuinely poor people of the locality and this does not include the seasonal influx of 'chancers', know that they are quite welcome to unobtrusively help themselves to this heartfelt bonanza, each deserving family being allowed one helping, of any size, per day as long as the meat lasts. Those harvesting this bounty, a kilo of a similar cut costing Rs 160 elsewhere in Murree, are, surprisingly enough, not greedy. They limit themselves to a reasonable quantity thus ensuring that others also get their share. When asked why this sudden burst of 'goodness', the butcher seriously states what everyone already knows: "Times are hard and getting harder. Poor people can't feed themselves anymore and the situation is getting worse. This is the least I can do to help them." He is not rich himself, not by any stretch of the imagination and this tremendous act of generosity eats into his already meagre profits but he is doing far more to help the poor survive than people with more comfortable incomes would ever dream of. A skeletal man, tall and silent, slides through waiting customers, his eyes downcast out of embarrassment. Selecting a few chunks of the free meat, he carefully puts them into a well used plastic carrier bag then slides back out into the busy street. I suddenly feel guilty for purchasing liver for my dogs. I see the man again: he is rooting through a pile of garbage near some vegetable and fruit shops. Extracting a few damaged potatoes, a yellowing head of cabbage and a bunch of black bananas from the heap, he looks pleased, adding them to his stash with a half smile to himself before silently sliding away. Walking up through another of Murree's narrow bazaars I see two young children, a girl and a boy both garbed in filthy clothes which have seen better days and other owners. The boy, maybe seven or eight years old, clutches two small bags of badly bruised apricots, juice dripping out of one corner. The girl, maybe five years old with lice in her matted hair, methodically darts her eyes from one side of the litter strewn alley to the other, pouncing on the treasures of apricot stones, spit out by other people to add to her growing hoard which, no doubt, when she gets home to the migrants camp she inhabits outside town, she will patiently pound with rocks to extract the tasty, if cyanide rich, kernels. Base poverty is shocking in its ordinariness. Few people even bother to contemplate the dire straits of the thin man with his handout of meat and rubbish rescued vegetables. Even less pay attention to the scavenging children who roam the country from one end to the other but who will, Allah seeing fit, one day grow up to hope for better days that, for them, are unlikely to materialise. My weekly trip into town is suddenly depressing and, instead of stopping over for lunch, I catch the overcrowded Suzuki pick-up back towards home where, walking down the sunlit mountain track, weaving my way between the shade of softly sighing pine trees on the one side and criminally neglected agricultural land on the other, my mood swings from sorrow to anger as I peer into overgrown orchards where apricots and plums lay rotting on the ground. This criminal waste, it happens every year, is typical of local people who simply can't be bothered to harvest let alone process their God given crops yet think nothing of pleading poverty and asking for handouts. "We are garib loag," they whine. "Everything in the bazaar is too expensive. The price of mangoes is impossible this year," they moan with unpicked fruit hanging on their trees. They will eat an apricot or plum or two in the passing but that is all. They leave the rest for goats to feast on once they hit the ground. Only one woman around here does the work of drying apricots for her own household. No one makes jam, marabah or other preserves; no one is willing to learn though I have offered to teach them. Buying tins and bottles from the bazaar is easier. Those scavenging in the bazaars at least have enough pride to try and alleviate their poverty but those who wantonly waste heaven sent nutrition are poor in the mind to say the least. The writer is a Murree-based freelance columnist.