To Give?

The time is 05-28am. I’m on a train called the Gitanjali Express, on my way to Nagpur. From Nagpur, I will catch a train to Bhopal and from there, a taxi ride to Indore, to the IIM there. I’m wearing a sweater and my mouth feels dry from a slight overdose of antibiotics to keep from relapsing to the fever that has been my companion for over a couple of days now. I haven’t had much solid food except for small, intermittent meals of dry bread in the past three days, and the antibiotics are creating havoc on my empty stomach.

As I sit talking to Sumit (much thanks to him for being a cheerful, indefatigable companion), I think of the thousands of tired, old, hungry people on India’s pavements who don’t know when and from where their next meal will arrive, if at all it does. Most of us have passed one or more such homeless people in all our lives. Some donate a coin or two, some a full, warm meal, still others nothing- hustling onward without a second glance, moving busily towards God knows what destination. Normally, I make it a point to give something, as do most of the people that I know- as a child I used to alarm my parents by donating a little too generously sometimes. It is to their credit that my parents never once asked me not to give away. The habit is firmly ingrained in me now, and I try and spread it to as many people as possible. As children, we all have the impulse to donate to someone who asks, I have seen countless children ask their parents why they didn’t give a beggar something, only to be shushed by angry, embarrassed parents. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have grown into ‘adults’ who cannot be bothered anymore to listen to the plea that a pair of hungry eyes holds, or simply shuffle in our pockets for five rupees and hand them over to an outstretched hand. Where are we heading, each individual who scurries past ignoring the hungry and the homeless? Where are we headed, as a nation, if we lose the humanity that has brought us where we are? Uncomfortable questions at five-thirty in the morning, but painful hunger has brought them home. At least I know there is food somewhere on the horizon in the next few hours and a good friend beside me until then. Things could be much worse. At least I am not one of those who sit, come rain or come shine, on a dirty pavement, depending on someone’s good mood that day, to be able to eat.

I am reminded of a stray incident in Bangalore when Sumit and I were busy haunting MG Road, Brigade Road and thereabouts, having the weekend off from internship busy-ness. Outside CCD, we spotted an old woman and spontaneously decided to get her something to eat. The only eatery to purchase food thereabouts was CCD and we packed a couple of warm samosas (inadequate, yes, but we couldn’t find any place else close by) and set her off to find her son and give him the food. As we were leaving, the man at CCD who’d packed the food hurriedly as we hustled and bustled him, raised two fingers in a quick salute to us, and we grinned back, three people very full of the warmth of having given. A very small thing, inconsequential but, hell, if three people can give and create a little bubble of warmth, imagine how much we can do if we all join hands.

Meanwhile, the medicine has started to take effect and I lean on the side of the compartment and close my eyes. Sumit arrives, the victor, having managed to buy whatever he can- a packet of Lays, some spongy cake and Parle G biscuit. I have never been so grateful to see packaged food in all my life. I thank Sumit and silently promise to feed someone in need as soon as I can. Most of all, I thank my parents- the joy of giving, it would seem, is best inculcated in childhood when selfishness and the mindless importance of the rat race haven’t sowed their seeds yet.

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