I grew up in a household where giving and sharing was part of everyday life. And for that reason, UniversalGiving ‘s motto and overall objective really resonated with me. I was born in India. In one of the poorest states of India, in fact, Bihar. Poor not just in terms of people not having money, and basic food and shelter, but in terms of low access to healthcare, clean water and so on. We were fortunate to be born into a household that did not have to fight for survival, and where we could afford luxuries time to time.
My grandfather was part of the Gandhian movement, and that meant that he believed in equality and a minimalistic lifestyle. Also, sharing and caring for those around us was not something that was made a virtue out of. It was just something that was intrinsic to our lives, and the family went about doing it without expecting to be lauded for it in any way.
I had often seen my mother go out of her way to help those around us – even though she was a single parent of two children, and had to watch her spending continuously to make sure we had a reasonably good lifestyle. The message we always got from her was one about compassion, about counting our blessings and helping those that were less fortunate. One particular incident stands out for me, and I will try and retell it as closely as I remember it, since this happened many, many years ago.
It was morning, and we were getting dressed for school. That chaotic time in a household when everyone wishes they had those extra ten minutes – to sleep in, to finish their breakfast, to polish their shoes just a little better. There was a loud, urgent knock on the door. We were not expecting anyone, so my brother (who was little at the time, maybe six) and I looked at each other and wondered who it might be. My mom took the door, almost exasperated that the already chaotic morning schedule was being derailed somewhat. She opened the door to find this old man, looking exhausted, famished and just generally unwell. It was summer, and the heat and humidity in Bihar can take everything out of you. My mother first offered him a drink of water, which he gulped down at record speed, and then asked why he was there. He said in Hindi “ Joota wali didi kahan hain?” meaning “ Where is the shoe lady?”
Ma said she didn’t understand, and then they went on to have a conversation about it. Turns out, every time my mother would board a rickshaw (a manually pulled basic mode of transport used a lot by people who do not own/drive cars ) , she would be heartbroken at the sight of the rickshaw pullers who did not own footwear and who were forced to paddle their rickshaws barefooted in the scorching heat. Along with paying them for the ride, she would also give them extra money so they could buy themselves a pair of basic footwear. She later told us that she had done this for a lot of them. And this particular one had found out about Ma and came right to her door to ask her for help. Ma helped him out with some food supplies, a pair of clothes, and of course some money for him to buy shoes. She let him go after telling him that he should respect our privacy and not send any more strangers to our door for safety reasons!!
The old man smiled, nodded, thanked her profusely and left after showering his blessings on my brother and I.
I have never felt more proud of my mother. In all this, what struck me most was that she had not mentioned a word of this to anyone. In this world where we tend to scream out about every little thing we do, this selfless act of silence stayed with me forever.
I have used Google to pull up an image of a rickshaw similar to the one she used then to get around about town.
Anshu Priya is a part of the marketing team at UniversalGiving.