Wednesday, March 03, 2010
The Joy of Giving
Selected by GlobalVoices Online on March 4, 2010
Second quarter of twentieth century. She grew up in a male household, having lost her own mother when she was a very small child. Her father saw a certain spark in her, and encouraged her in various learning pursuits. She was a good student, very alert about things around her. And he never let her miss out on the any of the things little girls like. Braiding your hair in two plaits was the done thing, and at one point, the latest was some complicated way of braiding, which all the girls were doing. He was known to have got up early one morning, and driven her more than 10 kilometres away to an aunt's place in Mumbai, so the indulgent aunt could do the necessary complicated braiding, which was beyond him as an engineer. (He actually plaited his daughter's hair every day before school).
She grew up and went to college in Pune , brought great pleasure to her father by her success. After a very difficult childhood himself, her father was now in a responsible administrative position, and she observed him setting aside a part of his income to help economically underprivileged students each year.
When she had her own family, and the children were young, she once expressed a wish to help an unfortunate but very intelligent lady, with her school fees. And her father chided her, bid her attend to her own family responsibilities first, and decided to help her friend himself. By and by , her children grew up, and moved away to study at various places, but always observed the various young students from the local engineering college who came to them and were helped with their fees and books. Some of these older students even became their friends. But the predominant feeling was, that at every satisfying and "perceived" successful moment in one's life, one remembered those not so fortunate with resources , and helped.
She and her husband continued this habit well into their old age. But sometimes this gene has a habit of settling into one of your favourite protein strands, particularly of the children.
Luckily , her daughter married into a family with a very similar thinking. The daughter and her family didn't always have great furniture, or the latest electronic gadgetry, but they never forgot an annual donation to some very deserving educational and children's welfare organizations, and no one ever knew about this except the immediate family. Special birthday occasions of family elders were celebrated with a decent donation to a needy cause, and no fanfare about it.
Occasionally, there were unexpected incomes , like the time she was paid some amount for correcting some exam papers in Marathi, her mother tongue. (She would accompany her young daughter to a specific afternoon school every day, and wait there. The principal of that Jesuit school, requested the help for Marathi papers, after he ascertained her qualifications and she and a friend ended up correcting papers in the library. ) They gave her an envelope. But the feeling of wanting to help was overriding, and she and her friend, donated the money back for sports equipment for the hostel boys there.
For a long time , in her family , Divali time was also a time to take sweets to the local children's home, and spend time playing with them, mostly on Bhai Dooj day. When you celebrated the brother sister bond.
Her children are now grown up.
The son graduated , after an internship of six months, which was less about money and more about slogging and experience. He came home one fine day, with a cheque which was proudly deposited into a fairly dormant account. The amount was not huge, but probably just enough for , say, 2-3 months groceries in a full house. His first earning from work, so to speak. And then he wrote out a cheque for a tenth of the amount, payable to the Children's Home, and persuaded his parents to come with him , when he gave it. There was no expectation of applause, but he wanted to make sure the paperwork was OK. And it was something that he felt very proud doing.
There have been other graduations. After a really tough period at college, having to appear for papers, in subjects, you were not thrilled about at all. So many of life's distractions. So many friends whose parents didn't take any interest in their child's education. Sometimes she felt her parents took too much interest, and rebelled. But her folks knew exactly how she was doing, and stood behind her like a supporting tree, while she fell and got up, and fell and got up again, slowly getting ahead. And reached the final post. A very happy girl, much at peace with herself. Things falling slowly into place.
Good wishes and congratulations from friends and family, pedhas and sweets distributed , gifts from indulgent aunts and uncles, wonderful letters from across the seas, from folks four times her age, possibly standing in for her long gone grandparents, and she looks up from her lunch.
"I have an idea. Do you think we can go and distribute some special sweets this time at the Children's Home ?" and she pours herself a glass of water.
"Hmmm .." and her mother passes some veggies to her.
" And I want to play a bit longer this time with the babies and smaller kids..." she says.
Then, quietly, " I have decided I want to give Rs 501 for the children. Maybe its too small an amount. But its from all the gift envelopes folks gave me. Can you check with their office if its is OK ?"
Her mother is speechless. Totally amazed at how children observe and learn. The ethos of helping, of feeling that one should do that because one has so much more. Quietly, without making a song and a dance about the giving. In a world , where you are supposed to hanker after smarter and smarter phones, costing more and more, even fancy vehicles, outlandish inappropriate clothes, where you pay for some one's lapel name, and music systems that plug into your brains at a huge cost, it boggles the mind, that that someone should think of the children who have so little to call their own. And decide to do something about it.
It is fashionable to attribute things to genetics, to the altruistic DNA swishing around in your cells.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Just maybe, the environment matters more . One lives, observes and learns. One sees, swallows, masticates, digests and absorbs "values". Sometimes they manifest themselves as those little squiggles in your cells that pass for the "giving gene" .
Some call it nature. Others call it nurture.
It's actually just the Joy of Giving.