Monday 11 October 2010

Priya’s Kala of giving, subah ho ya Shyam

I remember that day vividly, a tsunami had just struck the southern coast of India. Phone lines to Chennai were jammed by callers touching base with their near and dear ones. Millions were those that must have been watching the pictures of destruction being replayed on tv. “I have to go there and help those people,” said Priya as she got off her couch to figure out where to go and plan how to get there.

She did not want to go because she was from any of the places affected, or because someone close to her had been affected. All that she knew is that she could not sit around doing nothing. She had to go. Simply. And that was that.

Welcome to Priya’s Kala of giving. Unconditional. Sans expectation. Unreservedly so. Ant time of the day or night. Whenever calamity strikes. Subah ho ya Shyam. Wherever it strikes. Whoever it strikes.  Gender no bar. Religion no bar,  unlike the Christian misisonaries who showed up with relief material meant for people who agreed to convert. Not so with Priya. Age no bar. Caste no bar. Only giving, bar bar.

What got her going was that there was some money lying in the bank account of the Jana Rakshita Trust which her family had set up to help cancer patients who could not afford treatement. In a moment of inspiration, the family had told the guests who attended Priya’s sister’s marriage, that the only gifts that would be welcome would be donations to the Trust.  Priya eckoned that the amount so raised was enough to make a difference to atleast a few people in the tsunami affected areas. ”Every paisa matters if spent properly,” she says.

In a world where most of us are takers, in a world whe most of us are selfish where most of us are grabbers, a world where we dont know how to give, Priya and her family are a rare exception. So it was that once Priya announced her intention, her mother decided to go along with her. “When I was a kid, my mom would take me when she went out to help cancer patients. She would simply ask me to come, so that is where I imbibed the culture of giving, I guess,” Priya says. Her dad, who held a job in the middle east, soon followed suit. Not for them the excuses that most of us are wont to dish out to explain a refusal to act.  “My dad has always been giving quietly, I did not know about this until a friend told me about it,” she says about her father, Shyam Sundar.

Priya maintains a notebook of all the excuses she has heard. I do not give alms to the beggar as he is a bloody drug addict. Surely you have seen Slumdog Millionaire and seen how they blind these children, it is a racket I dont wish to be part of. Oh if I give to one, I will be besieged by a horde of beggars, surely I cannot be giving all of them. I wanted to give money for the tsunami affected, but you know all these charities are bogus. when it comes to not giving excuses flow fast and furious.

“Each one of us can make a difference to the people around, it is a wasted life if we don’t,” she tells me. “It should be easy for people to give small amounts, but they don’t,” she adds.  In recession time, people dont give because it is recession. In good times, people dont give because they are saving up to a buy a dream home. “One person told me that they are going through a tough time financially and I discover later that that is because they were saving up for a vacation they could not afford, and for which they had borrowed to bridge the deficit” she says.

What sort of people give, I ask her. Usually, it is people who have been through similar suffering. Someone’s son had cancer, so he donates to the trust. Yet another person lost his wife to cancer and has seen the suffering, so they give. But even then most people give once, thinking that that is enough. “Why should people be driven by selfish reasons when giving? Giving should be about being selfless,” she says.

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