A few weeks ago, I, along with a benevolent friend of mine and my daughter were driving down the streets of my locality in search of 15 poor people to whom we could donate a blanket each. It is freezing cold at this time of the year in the capital region and I was in a charitable mood – not just to donate some loose change to the beggars like the other times, but something which I know would be useful. So a phone call to my ever-so-helpful friend culminated my somewhat generous thought into reality in a matter of two days. He said his usual, “ho jaayega” (it will be done) and so it had.
So here he was one evening after work in his car with colourful blankets stacked in his hatchback. My daughter and I hopped into the car and then started our journey. It was not easy. Despite having poor people all around us it was difficult to work out who was really “needy”. The time and day were also not apt. You find many beggars sitting outside the temples early mornings and evenings and on particular auspicious days of the week when they know the maximum number of devotees would turn up to the temple. So we went about looking for them on not a Tuesday or a Saturday and around the lean time of 4 pm. We began by going to a temple on the hillside by my house but couldn’t find any one there so moved on further. We crossed many streets and then spotted a poor woman with a baby sitting by the road selling some goods. I could see a twinkle in her eyes as she saw us stop the car and donate the blanket. And then we stopped by another temple and distributed eight more blankets to the beggars sitting outside.
Then it made us realize that donating the remaining six blankets was a Herculean task. My daughter kept fretting sitting at the backseat with having nothing to do. It was strange to be surrounded by so many poor people around us yet we were not able to find the ‘right’ people. You walk out of the house and you find the poor everywhere but finding the poorest (maybe I was looking for the homeless) was not easy. How do we figure out that this poor man is the poorest? An auto rickshaw driver is less poor than the manual rickshaw driver and may not need a mere blanket. I know of a particular auto rickshaw driver in my area who also has motorbike and by no mean looks in need of a blanket. But what about others I do not know of? And this is where ‘looks’ came in. And looks, rightly said so, can be deceptive. As it so happened on the same day.
We have 2 cobblers in our area and I donated to only one. I do feel bad now as I retrospect. After all, they both do the same kind of job and have the same kind of set up – a makeshift thatch on the corner of the roads. So why did I differentiate? While one cobbler is dressed up well the other is not. I felt uneasy offering a blanket to the well-dressed one. Would it not hurt his self -respect? His pride? So did it go against him to be respectfully dressed up despite being poor? Perhaps. We donated blankets to those who ‘looked’ very poor but what about those who are poor but don’t look or choose to look poor. So should the poor look poor to get some charity? Why do we have to be charitable to the able-bodied beggars who just sit outside the temples and not to those who get up and work and try to get some wage?
So in my quest for the poorest of the poor, I learnt how wrong I have been and going forward, I would look beyond the looks.
(image courtesy: http://www.mncc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Web_handsopen.jpg)