22/06/2015 8:41 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

The Flip Side Of Charity And The Charitable

ROUF BHAT via Getty Images
A Kashmiri boy feeds an injured young Hangul Deer in a suburb of Srinagar on October 24, 2012 which residents had rescued from a pack of stray dogs. The Hangul Deer or Kashmiri stag is an endangered species of red deer and officials revealed that as per the last census of 2011 the number of Hangul recorded in the wildlife sanctuary was 218. AFP PHOTO/Rouf BHAT (Photo credit should read ROUF BHAT/AFP/Getty Images)

I would like to believe that I am a reasonably good human being. I do not raise my hand on my children. Voices are raised to glass-shattering levels sometimes, but never the hand. Believe me, that is a huge qualifier. The dogs at our place have gracefully allowed us a little place under the roof. The boys occasionally show up with injured pups and birds, and we try to help them. In our own lazy little ways we try to do whatever little good we can. And no we do not blow our horn. We are like most people I know - nothing extraordinary, but fairly normal people who go slightly out of their way to help.

Then there are others - not the true do-gooders but the visible ones. The true ones are never seen, and rarely heard. They just go on and make huge amounts of difference because that is the only thing they know how to do. The visible ones, however, are the charitable souls we all have come across over the years. They infuriate us, get our goats and torture them, and put themselves on a pedestal while they grind our faces to dirt, yet we keep quiet or at most, whisper dismissively about them to our friend. We move on only to be tripped by them time and again. Some of the prominent species of such angelic souls are:

The Garbage Dumpers: At one point of time, mum was working with the State Child Welfare Department and there was an adoption centre under her. The conditions were poor at that time so periodically we conducted drives to collect essentials. It used to break our hearts and cloud our vision with rage when we had to sort the donated stuff into the usable things and the garbage piles. From torn, stained clothes including undergarments, to broken toys and colouring books that had been sufficiently coloured in - everything was 'donated for the cause.' Charity seems synonymous to taking out trash for these pious creatures. Something that is not good enough for them is perfectly fine for others. Being in need after all automatically kills a person's sense of adequacy and self-respect.

The Media Hoggers: There is a difference between letting the world know that you are up to good in the hope of finding support, and posting a selfie with a poor malnourished child where the caption screams, 'feeling good.' They fail to recognise the fact that their motive of being perceived as a noble soul cannot be good enough. A better route to feeling fine about self would be to get to real work and be the reason behind some smiles. But they choose to post smileys instead, along with memoirs of their brush with the 'charitable' work, of course.

The spontaneous do-gooders: Take a look at the multiple groups on social media. Chances are, you would find at least one post a day with over 206 likes and 93 comments applauding the action of the lady (or the man) who felt her heart had left her body when she saw the frail child in the arms of a woman begging at the road side. Our good samaritan stopped the car, rolled the window of her air-conditioned car down, and gave them money or fruits or both. I know the feeling that follows, since once upon a time, under my resolution to 'do good' on my birthday, I started distributing blankets to whomever I could find. This went on for three years. In the fourth year, I went to a neighbouring construction site, distributed the blankets, and felt immensely satisfied about the whole thing. The next day, the guard told me that the site was shut for the day since the workers hadn't turned up. Apparently, they had sold the blankets, stocked up on bottles of country liquor and were now either passed out or nursing a hangover. That was the last time I indulged in such spontaneous charity. Rolling down the window, and flicking a few coins out is instantly gratifying, with the attainment of nirvana made even quicker by an update or a picture on social media. But when we give alms to beggars, we encourage them. Period. When we mindlessly feel charitable, we sometimes end up doing more harm than good.

The Chitragupta or St. Peter - take your pick: So you have steered clear of dumping your garbage in the name charity, you post pictures online with the sole aim of garnering more support without putting pressure on anyone, and have steeled yourself to not fall for the sorry crutch that magically disappears at the change of the traffic light to green. You are living in your own tiny bubble doing whatever little good you can here and there, getting heartbroken sometimes in the process, yet going on. Enter the bubble-shooters. These are newly self-appointed social activists whose actual work might not be as noticeable as their screams and shouts at you, the commoner, for not doing enough, or not doing it properly. They form formal groups, or informal ones, supposedly with good at their heart. However, sadly, it turns out to be another bid to be famous, or to feel ethereal about self. If you, the bubble-dweller, on the other hand, are seen doing something remotely substantial, they pounce at you to get you to join their organisation. And when you politely decline, loud tut-tuts ring out, heads shake at your callousness, and glares question the very reason of your existence. Some of us succumb and grudgingly join the torturous ranks, and some like yours truly, shamelessly hold out.

"If you have made charity the way of your life, I salute you. But your way of life might not be mine."

Here's the thing. If you have made charity the way of your life, I salute you. But your way of life might not be mine. So when you turn around and look at me for constant directionless support, and expect me to appear for photo-ops, donation drives and more, I slip away. I do not like being held to ransom. Charity is a personal choice. My choice might be as inconsequential as going to the children's home and telling them a story, or simply helping a student out beyond the classroom. A friend's choice involves getting regularly late for work since she invariably finds herself stopping the car to put the stray pups safely away from the traffic. But these are our choices. They are not big. They are not path-breaking, but they are ours.

While I browse through these immediately noticeable species, more come to my mind - the ones that quietly, consistently keep at it. There is this lady in Gurgaon we used to see sitting under a tree, catching hold of street kids and teaching them alphabets. At times it used to look ridiculous but she kept on - never asking for help, never posting pictures online, never blowing her horn. Over the years, others like her pitched in, and the children now sit under a roof. I asked her once, 'Why don't you talk to the government or media? You might get more support.' She waved her wrinkled hand with a smile, 'Good ones help anyway. Too much noise is troublesome.' That is true charity.

When Nana was at late stages of Alzheimer's, we got unexpected visitors every now and then. With moist eyes, they related surprising stories of him helping them when all doors had shut. We were speechless because all these years we were in absolute dark about this side of his. That is true charity. When my household helper got a trough, unmindful of the costs, for the stray animal to drink water from, that was true charity.

"Rather than shouting at others for not doing enough, do your bit."

So, rather than taking out your garbage by the truckloads, donate a tiny packet of meaningful stuff. Rather than instagramming a picture of yourself donating blood, try to figure out a way of taking basic health-care to grass root levels. Rather than quickly rolling down your window to give the beggar a ten-rupee coin, seek out the shelters that support programmes for street children and figure out ways to help there. Rather than shouting at others for not doing enough, do your bit. Be the change but do not expect the world to turn the tide because you decided to. Be the tiny solitary wave but do not scowl at the still puddle of water. The puddle, unknown to you, might be the reason a cloud of tadpoles would be seen welcoming the first rain next monsoon.

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