Charity needs Clarity
Should charity be a calculated move or a selfless spirit of generosity?
(A short story based on the true events in the life of Anubhav)
It was a Monday morning and as usual, Badami was late again. He was already running late for his office. ‘’Badami just do the bartans and leave everything else. I have to go.’’ Anubhav told his housemaid in the how-many-times-do-I-need-to-tell-you manner!
‘’Ji babuji.’’ She replied meekly and miraculously washed all the dishes within ten minutes.
Anubhav always wondered how the total time spent by her in the kitchen never exceeded the 10-to-12-minute range. You place ten dishes in the sink or place one hundred, she would come out drying her hands on her dupatta within that time range!
As she was crossing the main lobby to go out, Anubhav’s gaze went to the Mixed Fruit Jam glass jar which he had purposely kept there so as not to miss it.
‘’Badami, yesterday my daughter bought it for you and your children. So please take this.’’ She picked it up with both her hands and the deadpan expression on her face did not betray any emotion. And sadly, this did not give Anubhav any inner peace of sharing and joy!
A few days later, he just forgot this little transaction completely. Later, on a Sunday afternoon, Anubhav’s old schoolmate Jaiteg dropped in. He was a senior police officer. He had just finished his cup of coffee and was telling him how unsafe the environment in the city had become when the long persistent screeching sound of the doorbell almost muffled his voice. Immediately, Anubhav rushed towards the gate. There stood five or six dark-skinned men in shabby clothes and in the middle of this motley group, stood Badami with her face half covered with the veil of her dupatta.
At first glance, he thought they were there to ask for some donations. But their aggressive body language and angry eyes suggested something else. Something was wrong. Seeing him flustered, soon enough a man with a big and thick moustache, who was apparently the group leader, came forward.
Pushing Badami’s son towards him, he said, ‘’Bauji, what was the stuff you gave to this boy? Do you know the harm this has caused? Look at his swollen face and red eyes. It is all because of that sweet chutney you gave to Badami. Why did you do it? This is how you treat the poor like us who work for you to make your life comfortable?’’ Listening to this Anubhav was taken aback. He could see clearly the boy had a swollen face and his eyes were red shot. The boy was looking bewildered and scared. Now, Badami was also accusingly staring at him.
Before Anubhav could respond to these wild allegations, another group member, older in age, spoke loudly and in an intimidating tone, ‘’Bauji, you will have to pay for it. We will not spare you at all. This is cruelty! You rich people, what do you think of yourself?’’
Listening to the commotion, his friend Jaiteg came out. Pushing Anubhav back, he moved forward to face the group. Seeing this heavily built tall police uniform-clad officer, the group fell silent.
‘‘Ki hoeya…What happened?’’, he asked in his assertive police style. There was complete silence. He repeated the same thing.
Now Badami spoke in reply, ‘’Sahabji, see what has happened to my boy?’’
‘’Hmmm, I was listening to all this. So, the condition of the boy is due to this fruit chutney? Hunh? Or is it a drug allergy? Tell me,’’ he asked, while twisting his moustache with his right hand. The faces of all the people in the group, were now as white as chalk.
‘’Sahibji, my son does not take any drugs.’’ Badami said without any conviction in her voice.
Jaiteg looked intently at the boy and his facial expression showed that he had understood everything. He said, ‘‘Is it so? See, we the police are here for the protection of the public. If anything is wrong, we will look into it. Tell me, when he gave this jam to you what did he get out of it? Did he charge anything for it?’’ He asked in a friendly way now, ‘‘Answer me, don’t be afraid tell me the truth.’’
‘’No sahibji, it was a kind gesture on his part’’, said Badami. Her entire countenance had undergone a change by now.
‘’Right! We will take your son for a medical check-up. If anything has been caused by this jam your sahib will pay for the treatment and also adequate compensation, I promise. But if it is because of some drug, then I will put you all behind the bars for drug use and for harassing an innocent person.’’
Sensing things were going wrong, the group leader hurriedly said, ‘’Saab Ji, we don’t want anything. We are uneducated people! You are right. We did not think this way. We were misled by this boy. Who gets hurt with a fruit chutney? We cannot guarantee sir whether he uses drugs or not! We are sorry for all this!’’ His hands were folded and his gaze downcast.
‘’Very well! Ask forgiveness of this gentleman, otherwise, all of you are going to thana (police station) with me,” he said firmly. Immediately, the entire group stood before Anubhav and pleaded for forgiveness. Disgusted, he immediately dismissed them. They sped the scene at once as if they had seen a cobra.
Inside, back in the drawing room, Jaiteg said emphatically, ‘’See! That’s exactly what I meant when I was telling you about how risky and unsafe the world is now! How they planned to snatch easy money from you! And you were doing charity for these people! How come your maid did this?’’, he asked, his police mind still working.
‘’She is in fact not our regular maid,’ he told Jaiteg. ‘’Our maid, who has been working here for the last ten years, came down with some serious ailment a few months ago. She sent Badami as her replacement for a few months till she recovers fully from her illness.’’
‘’O my dear Anu, as far as I remember it was you who told me once about determining the ‘patarta or apatarta’ (competence or incompetence) of a person while giving any charity or donations to anyone. Anything given in the wrong hands or for the wrong purpose makes you a culprit too. You forgot? You need to re-learn this lesson yourself now.'
‘’I understand your concern, dear. But how can we be so calculating and shrewd while doing any act of charity or kindness?’’ Anubhav asked.
‘’Okay, let me narrate an incident from my own family which will open your eyes forever.’’ Jaiteg looked into his eyes directly. He was touchy now; Anubhav could feel it.
‘You know my sister who runs an NGO for the old people?’
‘Of course, I know.’ Anubhav replied.
‘Two months back, she took her immediate neighbour to a historic temple in Himachal Pardesh. Now, this neighbour aged 67 years had once helped my sister years ago when she was newly married and was facing some problems with her mother-in-law. He used to treat her mother-in-law as his own sister. So, because of his influence, the situation was resolved quickly and positively. My sister had always felt indebted to him. So, when he requested my sister to take him to a temple for prayers, she could not refuse his request. My sister took her car, drove for three hours and reached the temple along with him. There she came to know that despite the availability of the rooms, the people of the organising committee of the temple refused to allow any night stay in the temple. Resultantly, as you know her nature, she fought with them, threatened them. Talked to some NGO people of influence on the phone and finally, at the end, they opened one room for him. Satisfied, she came back the same day thinking that she has paid her old debt and had helped a true devotee in completing his long pending sadhna.’’
Jaiteg stopped and paused for a few seconds; his eyes were watery now. He continued again, ‘’What my poor sister did not know was that he was diabetic and a heart patient! During the night, he suffered a massive stroke and passed away in his sleep. All his family turned against her and the people at the temple also held her responsible and gave statements to the police against her. She was charged and arrested. There was a thorough investigation and obviously, nothing could be proved against her. My dear friend, you won’t believe, despite my position and contacts how I ran from pillar to post to save her but could do nothing because of the serious nature of the charges. She is in a state of depression now. All her life, she has helped the poor and old, ignoring her own family. But now her faith in doing acts of charity is shaken badly. She has learned a lesson; she will never forget. That’s why I am telling you Charity needs proper clarity. It’s the time you learn this.’’
He stopped; Anubhav could see he was not able to speak further. He gave him a glass of water. There was pain in Jaiteg’s eyes and all Anubhav could think was that if doing an act of goodness and charity too needed worldly wisdom and clarity of a calculative mind, emotions like compassion and pity would peter out. How can a man always live in an atmosphere of distrust? How can he view everyone around him as an enemy? Does that mean man should live selfishly and only for himself? What then was the difference between a man and an animal? There was no simple answer to this question, Anubhav mused.
A Summer Idyll
The Summer of 64
My heart skipped a beat when we saw them coming slowly up the hill road. Three gorgeous boys, spanning the width of the road, dressed in suits of various shades of blue. They filled out their suits to perfection. All three were tall, had wonderful physiques, and were a feast for the eyes. It struck me that they had to be the best-looking guys in town, no, in fact the whole country. We were standing a good hundred yards above them, and in our eagerness had reached the rendezvous point ten minutes earlier. But it made for this excellent vantage point and gave us enough time to soak in this unbelievable sight. It was Arun and his friends.
Not to say we were too bad ourselves. Loveena of course, was every one’s favourite. She had all the makings of a beauty with her alabaster skin, striking auburn hair and hazel eyes, and she knew full well the impact of this combination. No one could resist her. I sort of felt she was every guy’s dream and his worst nightmare. Sara next to her was as pretty as a picture with her statuesque frame, a long coil of jet-black hair, bright sparkling eyes, and a face reflecting a deep philosophical mind. As for myself I was good looking in a subtle kind of way. I had been called exotic, which meant the viewer was discerning, and had looked below the surface. My deep-set eyes, a wide brow, a full mouth and an attractive figure, definitely warranted a second look.
Before any of us could mouth a word, Loveena, the taker as always, piped up and said, “ Arun’s mine, and Urvashi don’t you dare look at him ‘’. I had already met Arun and his friend Jeetu several times, and Arun’s total lack of intellect, had not aroused any spark in me. Loveena was more than welcome to him. Jeetu and he had done their schooling together but were now in different colleges. Jeetu was a quiet OK sort of guy and was good to have around, but it was the third one, who was drawing my attention.
It was the summer of ’64, and we had just finished our graduation. Sara and I studied in the same college and were the best of friends. We had both done quite well in our exams, much to our parent’s relief, and had been given the go ahead to have a relaxed vacation. Thus, we had gravitated to this picturesque hill station in Kumaon, which was the playground of the well to do in those days. The concept of foreign travel hadn’t quite caught on due to strict government regulations and the elite were more than content to holiday in these tranquil destinations, enjoying the cool mountain air to the utmost. They landed there with large retinues, hired full bungalows of which there were aplenty. They dotted the hillside in all kinds of picturesque locales and had the most wonderful summer stay. It was the genteel way of life, and we were very much a part of it.
All kinds of recreations were at our disposal. There was yachting and boating on the picturesque lake which always had a festive air about it. Various kinds of Regattas and competitions were always taking place. Wonderfully trained ponies were available for the adventurous, who wanted to enjoy a brisk jog around the lake or up the hillside. There was a nine-hole golf course at an altitude of six and a half thousand ft. above sea level and was very popular with the elite. The waterfront was lined with colourful cafeterias, boasting exotic menus and live entertainment. For the slightly conservative there were walking trails, a well maintained Mall road where one bumped into all and sundry. Beautiful shop windows beckoned from the sidewalks. An exclusive Club House was the favourite watering hole of the gentry where one could spend a congenial evening at a game of cards, or any other indoor sport or simply while away the evening in the company of friends.
While the elderly spent their time relaxing in each other’s company, the youngsters gravitated towards one another. It was a close-knit society comprising of high-ranking officials, scions of royal families, and well to do business men hailing from hereditary businesses and old money. Anyone who mattered knew each other and were on a familiar turf. It was a kind of rarefied bubble which no outsider could penetrate easily. Everyone had one aim and one aim only, to make the most of the time in summer, or the ‘’season ‘’ as it was colloquially called and enjoy it to the full.
Not wanting to be limited to the confines of the club house, the youngsters ventured forth to indulge in a host of activities. Destinations were chosen for energetic treks, drives to various scenic spots, day picnics in picturesque surroundings and meeting up in each other’s homes for a casual evening. Often there was a birthday to be celebrated, which were occasions of great bonhomie and light-hearted fun. There was music to be enjoyed, participating in wonderfully thought out innovative games, groove on the improvised dance floor to show off ones dancing skills, and gorge on the tantalizing eats that the host provided. Invitations for these were much sought after because they were activities not to be missed.
Thus it was that we were rendezvousing to join the birthday celebration of a friend. It was generally an open house affair, and you could walk in with a partner of your choice. Often the host didn’t quite know how many guests there would be, but since this was a known phenomenon, they were usually prepared for a flexible gathering. Loveena had extended the invitation to Arun and had asked him to bring his friends. This marked the entry of Abhay into the group. After the initial introductions, Loveena singled Arun out and continued the walk up to Nisha’s house, whose birthday it was. Loveena clung possessively on Arun’s arm and drew him into an animated conversation and made sure that she had his undivided attention. Nisha’s house, an imposing bungalow of British times, with glass facades, morning rooms and sweeping lawns was still a further hundred metres up the hill. Sara and I trailed behind with Jeetu and Abhay at an easy pace, sizing each other up, and pretending not to, and making short breathless inane conversation. Whenever I glanced at Abhay, he seemed more interested in the surroundings, taking in the majestic sweep of the road and the tall deodars bordering it. The trees were swaying in unison in the balmy evening breeze and the chill glazed off our skin like an opiate. Well he appeared to be nice enough, but I wondered what he would be like when we really spoke with each other. And of course, there was the million-dollar question, whether I had made any kind of impression on him, the way he had on me. Patience Urvashi, I chided myself, tread carefully! I wasn’t the impetuous kind, and not wanting to be hurt easily never let anyone spy the chink in my armour. Besides I had too much self-respect to foist myself on any one, I preferred to be pursued.
On entering the premises we found the evening was well under way, with a motely crowd of our usual regulars. There was the loud hailing of one another, the introductions and the eagerness of youth to fit in and immerse in the festivities. I noticed that Abhay appeared to adapt quite easily and was soon lost to some group or the other, but whenever I glanced in his direction, I caught him quickly looking away, which indicated that he had been looking at me, and I felt a kind of warmth engulfing me. All of a sudden the summer which had been progressing predictably, took on an edge. Was this how it felt, this burgeoning of a new friendship; a kind of awakening which drew my senses taut like the strings of a violin. I couldn’t escape from the fluttering in the pit of my stomach, which increased when we found we were paired off in one of the games, by the draw of lots. There was so much gaiety everywhere and I found I was enjoying every second of it. My step was lighter and my laugh more infectious, and my repartee was like a live wire. It was a fun evening which I wanted to go on and on but which I knew would soon come to an end. It was tantalising and held the promise of an exciting adventure in which I wanted to participate to the hilt. With cheerful goodnights, and the promise of meeting again soon, Loveena and I made our way home. Our houses were close to each other, and we generally went everywhere together. Sara used to join us at the club, which was a kind of ritual, and we spent most of our time in each other’s company.
As chance would have it the ladies of the town decided to have a fete in the city centre, to collect funds for some kind of charity work. Since most of the district official’s wives were members of it, there was no difficulty in getting permission etc, and the best locale of the town was allocated for it. The goverment bandobast had pitched in to make the afternoon a success. The Ladies requested us youngsters to play an active role by putting up entertainment stalls which would draw visitors in large numbers. Since it was the height of the season, this would not be difficult. Not ones to do anything in half measure we cooperated with full enthusiasm, and the three of us started putting our heads together as to which stall it would be best to put up. The boys of our group lent a sympathetic ear and with promises of helping, generally left us to our own devices. After flitting from one idea to the next, and after hot discussions on all possibilities, Sara and I decided to put up a request stall, where anyone could choose a song of one’s choice, and after paying a small fee it would be played on the tannoy system. Loveena felt that she was an unnecessary third and decided to pair up with someone else. We had everyone chipping in to put together a large collection of records of popular hits. A player was found, colourful charts were painted in bold script emblazoning the songs. We made colourful posters and banners to decorate the stall amongst much hilarity and camaraderie and had everything on track before the event which had the makings of great fun and laughter. With assurances of full attendance of our group, we awaited the day, which finally dawned, bright and clear. The event ladies had provided us with a backup staff and we were to be there in the organizational capacity. However, when I reached the venue, there was a message from Sara, stating she was unwell and wouldn’t be able to make it. Apprehensive about how I would manage I informed the organisers and they promised to send someone else as soon as they could arrange it. In the meantime I was to hold the fort. Putting up a brave front, though in reality I was a bag of nerves, I busied myself.
The stall soon rang out to the sounds of a melee of people clamouring for attention. I was deluged with requests of all kinds. From ensuring that the requests were played, helping in the selection of records, and making sure that the money was reaching the till, I had my hands full. I could have killed Sara for choosing that day to fall ill, and silently gnashed my teeth. Inevitably I was soon hot and harassed when suddenly I heard an amused voice at my shoulder whispering ‘’my my! you could certainly do with some help’’ and looking up met Abhay’s laughing eyes. He was lounging across the counter, and I snapped at him challengingly ‘’What are you doing there, come right behind on this side’’ I challenged. Like a cool drop of rain, he was beside me in a jiffy. We soon had the chaos sorted out, catchy songs blared in a crescendo, and the money kept piling up sweetly. Our heads were joined together over the chart, when Loveena’s silky tone cut in “well if we aren’t having fun’’ and I realised guiltily that we had indeed been enjoying ourselves, working wonderfully well in tandem, and our teamwork flowed as naturally as a mountain spring. The time had flown away. After a few minutes of chit chat, and after stressing the pressing need of her own stall, Loveena left us. But the expression on her face disquieted me. I had seen it once too often and was very familiar with it but never anticipated that at some time I would be the cause of it. It was a peculiar mix of disbelief, enquiry and resolve. I tried to ignore it, and pretended not to recognise it, but deep down I was perturbed. I tried to brush it aside and carry on as if nothing had happened, but instinctively knew that things did not augur well for me. Somehow, she had blighted the day. Not knowing the under current Abhay carried on in his usual self. He was both amusing and efficient, and soon had me laughing with his lighthearted banter and the afternoon sped away as if in a dream. We appeared to have struck a chord with a magical mix of anticipation and excitement which made me feel weak and light-headed at the core and I resolved to make the most of it. To hell with Loveena and her conniving ways. That night I slept cosily in my bed, snug in the knowledge that Abhay appeared to be all that I liked in a man and had preferred to spend his time with me. But by morning the ecstasy had vanished, and harsh reality reared its ugly head. I knew Loveena would strike soon. She had a well- defined conquest syndrome. She just had to acquire whatever she desired, whether it be object or human, and always managed to have her way. I felt she had an imaginary list in her head which she kept notching up.
Over the next few days there was an overt change in her. In our meetings, where we generally talked shop, I realised she was short with Arun. Abhay was now at the centre of her radar. She would call out loudly to him, single him out for small requests, would choose a seat next to him, and even selected topics with a scientific bent because that was Abhay’s chosen stream. She would come dressed in stunning outfits, which she knew made the most of her assets and pointedly asked Abhay’s opinion on every topic under the sun. Sara and I kept up a façade of nonchalance while in company, though deep down we cottoned on as to the game Loveena was playing. As soon as I made my way home after the day’s caper, I would cast off my veneer of gaiety and wallow in uncertainty. Knowing Loveena’s track record she would soon have Abhay on her leash. ‘’Oh, life is not fair’’ I muttered in disgust and bending down to the road picked up a pebble and hurled it onto the nearest lamp post, where it impacted with a loud clang, the sound ricocheting in the quiet hillside. My spirits were definitely at their lowest ebb but after a restless night, with the resilience of youth in the morning I made up my mind not to give Loveena the satisfaction of a walkover. I would stay the course and carry on as if all was well in paradise. Naturally it tore at the core of my being that I was embroiled in a tussle for a man’s attention. Thus, we carried on as usual, and the days spun by in a hurly burly of activity and exuberance. We boated on the lake, took ponies in a canter up the hill, met for matinee show movies and generally basked in each other’s company. We laughed, we fought, and simply enjoyed being alive. Arun was often sullen and Abhay, thoughtful as ever, would divide his time equally with everyone. At night I would give in to my uncertainties but would soon rationalise that Abhay was magnanimous and hadn’t really been ensnared by Loveena just yet. Why! hadn’t he made it a point to confirm with me that we would be meeting up near the skating rink in the afternoon the next day. I could not deny that I felt all gooey inside every time I thought of Abhay and couldn’t help myself in looking out for each look, each action, each nuance of his. It dawned on me that he was beginning to mean a whole lot more to me than mere friendship. I certainly had a major crush on him.
Things continued in this uncertain manner and the summer wore on. Inevitably the vacation would end, and we would go our separate ways. But I refused to let the matter dampen my spirits and get the better of me. ‘’Que sera sera‘’ I rationalised. Shortly afterwards everyone voted for a walking picnic. We decided to explore a place called Cliffs. Cliffs was remotely poised on a rock face towards one end of the town. It was a stark rock rising out of the wooded surroundings, standing tall and bleak. From here the mountain side plummeted sharply into the valley in a blaze of colours forming a stunning kaleidoscope. Depending on the weather the valley became blue in the sun, or green in the rain, and often grey in the swirling mists. The silhouette became a ball of fire in the setting sun. Its base was lined with rows of tiny deaodars amongst which the wind rustled in orchestrated resonance. Cliffs had to be one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Its beauty lay in the fact that very few people knew about it. It definitely wasn’t for the faint of heart.
The designated day turned out to be a fine morning with the sun radiant in the sky. Comfortable jeans, topped with loose shirts in all colours of the rainbow, were the order of the day, when we started assembling at a meeting point. The numbers had swelled as word about the trek had spread. Most of us were armed with food packets, cold drinks, cameras and transistors. The walk was a rugged. kilometre of a sharp mountainous track and we set off in high spirits. We were more or less an evenly balanced group of boys and girls. Some were loud, out to catch attention from the word go, while many were reserved and sombre but there was no denying the easy camaraderie. A slight wave of the hand had indicated that Abhay was there, and Arun still a part of the fray. Arun always appealed because of his extra ordinary good looks and personality, and the newcomers were coming in his ambit. All in all, we made for some interesting company. Loveena sought out the newcomers, but her interest was only superficial. She flitted from Sara and me to Abhay and Arun. Jeetu quietly kept in our orbit. From the set of her jaw, you could make out that Loveena wanted the day to be significant. From the enthusiasm of the start, the steep climb was beginning to take its toll, and the crowd had quietened down. The track had boulders and potholes and needed careful manoeuvring besides sharing the load of our food packets. Dishevelled and breathless we reached our base camp at last and flopped down in the small meadow at the base of the cliff. The cool breeze was like balm on our heated skins and had us refreshed in a jiffy. Everyone gravitated towards one another and formed groups of twos and threes in a large circle. Drinks were served to cool down and snacks were circulated. Someone had the music going, while someone else had spread out a large sheet for people to sit. A few tireless ones tackled the climb to the ridge. A foursome had a pack of cards while others just flopped around enjoying the beauty of the place. An energetic game of ‘’passing the parcel‘’ was initiated and all of us joined in with fervour. It was going to be a fun day and I refused to indulge in self-doubt. Bhushan, a lively fun-loving lad, set the tone for the day with his insatiable warmth and liveliness, and all of us followed suit. It was as if we were in a game of musical chairs and enjoyed the company of whoever was at hand. Camaraderie at its best.
Lunch was soon served, and everyone tucked in hungrily. Most of us had brought a variety of stuff and there was plenty to go around. Satiated, I felt like enjoying my own company and abandoning Sara with a group, I quietly made my way unnoticed to a copse of baby conifers which grew in thick unison on a small summit some distance away. They were green and luxuriant, and their leaves touched the ground forming an arbour. It was a haven designed by a master stroke of nature and I crawled beneath its welcoming branches. The bed of needles looked inviting and stretching out I lay luxuriating in the cool breeze. It rustled in the branches, and I felt as if I had taken flight into the firmament. Was this a taste of paradise? Lost in my reverie, I didn’t realise my sanctuary was breached till I felt a shoulder rubbing against mine. Turning to my side I stared deep into Abhay’s eyes. Wordlessly he lifted my head and lay it on his shoulder, and we quietly lay content to be with each other, oblivious of the world around us. The sweetness of the moment enveloped me in a blanket of contentment. I knew it would stay with me forever and would be a befitting prologue to life.