On Giving

A while ago I went to Mumbai to spend time with my best friend Tanvi, and during that time we would go for daily walks and talks to a nice park behind her house. Once, on our way to the park, we were stopped by a couple with a small child who asked us if we spoke Marathi. They said they had no money and wanted to go somewhere, to a relative’s place I think, which and they needed money for the travel. They gave some other details about where they were from and where they were headed to and why they had no money, but I can’t seem to remember these now. Said they were hungry and had not eaten anything all day, so would we be kind enough to give them some money for a meal and train tickets to their destination?

Tanvi and I weren’t carrying our purses or anything; we were only supposed to go to the park and back. But Tanvi’s mom had asked her to get something from a grocer’s, so she had a couple of hundreds with her. She began talking eagerly to this family, sympathizing with them and asking them if they knew how to get to the place they were apparently headed for. I, with a feeling of wariness and discomfort, held back. Tanvi turned to me and asked what we should do, but looking at her I knew that she’d already decided. I tried to reason with the family that we didn’t have money either, since we were just taking a stroll. But they said that they would accept any amount we would give them. Tanvi promptly took out a hundred rupee note and gave it to them, saying this was all she could spare, but, after some quick calculations, she assured them that it would be enough for them to have a meal somewhere as well as get a train ticket. They thanked us over and over again, said something about Marathi Manoos and how only Marathi people can understand each others’ woes, and left. Looking at them, I felt they might have been genuine but I was still plagued with distrust.

As we began walking again, I asked Tanvi why she had believed so easily in their story, and that many people used this trick to fool gullible folks like her, as I had experienced earlier in places as far off as Vaishnodevi and Udaipur. I told her about a fight I had with Nitin in Udaipur once, when he’d given some cash to a family with a similar story. She replied that she had looked into their eyes and known that they were genuine. “But how can you TELL?” I asked her, adding that I could never tell the difference… then she said something really nice that I realised, with a start, was so true. She said that regardless of whether she was right or wrong in judging their genuineness, she was giving with a faith that, some day in the future, if she’d happen to be in a similar situation as those people today, she would also receive what she needed. “You get back what you give, Sakhi…”

I quote thoughts like these but when it comes to actually implementing them, I often fall short. That evening my best friend taught me a lesson in giving, and some thoughts to go with it that I’d never considered before. Later, I realized that I HAD been in a similar position on the Cycle Yatra, having no money and being dependent only on people’s humanity… and those people who had given to me so gracefully then had not stopped to judge whether I was ‘genuine’ or not. What then, gave me the right to sit on this pedestal of passing similar judgment on others?

Also, I need to address and question these feelings within myself that make me so distrustful of such people… is it because of a class prejudice that I still need to tackle? Is it because, somewhere, I consider giving or asking for help a sign of weakness? Or is it a fear of making a fool out of myself? But as Gibran has said, In truth, it is life that gives unto life– while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

My concluding thoughts are that, I still need inspiration from Gibran and the rest of them with their wise words and abstract poetry to understand concepts like these, but there are people like Tanvi or Nitin to whom these things just come so naturally, and which flow out of their beings so easily! I admire them and take inspiration from them that, one day, I might become like them too.

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