Today's mood

सानू सौदा नहीं पुखदा, सानू सौदा नहीं पुखदा...

रवि तो चेनाब पुछदा,

"की हाल है सतलुज दा?"

Monday, July 22, 2013

Is charity the simple way out?

I am at District City Centre-1, Kolkata, and I don’t think any well read, modern day Indian needs a description of what Kolkata is. Rabindranath, and Sarat Chandra have already filled libraries on this city, or rather I must say what they have written is Kolkata these days. It is difficult to state with confidence whether their work inspired modern day Kolkata, or they were good in predicting where Kolkata was moving towards, either ways it is unambiguously and rightly credited as the cultural hub of India. I am looking for a way out of the second floor, and I sight a counter of an already closed kiosk. The red painted counter has two angelic kids sitting on it, most probably siblings by looks, and rhyming off “twinkle-twinkle little star”. I will make sure my kids sing twinkle-twinkle under “a little star” not in a mall where artificial stars are costlier than planetarium visits. The kids are sweet nevertheless and their father is standing a few feet away with a camera capturing moments, a doting father indeed. A ten year old girl, whose clothes could neither be categorized as shabby nor torn, stood a few feet far and out of the frame of the snap. She was either the house-help’s daughter or the house-help herself. I stood there with a poignant heart trying to take in the disparity of the snap my eyes had taken. One one hand I saw two kids, leading the most comfortable of all life, access to modern entertainment, access to new clothes, fulfillment of desires faster than they breath, and on the other hand I could see a ten year old girl, give or take a few years, looking at the siblings and immersed in a deep thought with eyes that showed a desire, an incessant desire to be there where the fortunate siblings were.

My chain of thoughts was broken by the following sentence, “There is nothing that you can do!” It was a feminine voice and an accent that gave away the speaker to be a well-read individual. I turned around, and faced a complete stranger who just a few moments ago had judged what was going on in my half kilogram brain. She had big prominent eyes common to majority of Bengali girls, a nose which was close to a smooth slide from the pince-nez to the tip; it wasn’t bulging at the tip; she wore spectacles whose power was difficult to guess in the dimply lit space that I stood.

“Excuse me!” I wasn’t exactly sure, and to confirm that she commented on what I thought she commented, then I needed to explicitly hear it from her very mouth.

“There is nothing you can do to help the standing small girl, with an innocuous desire in her eyes, beside the counter. The people who can really do something are busy filling lockers even at the cost of coffins, the rest are just a part of the problem.” There was no sarcasm in her voice rather as if what she spoke was an universal law, a law as unshakable as the constants of physics.

“There is something that can be done- something, anything. There are NGOs, Child Care institutes,Child Labor law someone can help her.”

She gave a sarcastic smile, a smile that made you feel a fool. “People like you, and I mean the majority of people, are too easy to be moved by extreme poverty, by hideous ugliness, by extreme starvation. It is but inevitable not to be moved by them. However the problem is, emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man’s intelligence; and it is much easier to have sympathy with suffering than sympathy with thought. Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, the NGOs very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are a part of the disease.”

What was she saying? Her words came to me as someone was waking me from a dream by slapping me hard on my face. She belonged to a different world, not to this mortal world. All my brain could comprehend was she had an opinion on no good coming out of the immense altruism and philanthropy that the world-over people do. I had not accepted her opinion as of yet.

Before I could cut her short by stating I don’t agree with you, she went on, “You might share a different opinion of stating the NGOs are trying to change things. Well statistically the charity doers have been trying to change things since money was invented. They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by putting that small girl in some school. With a drunkard or a dead father, with an ageing, physically diseased or bed-ridden mother at home, putting her in school is called- amusing the poor. With children dying at mid-day schools being news not even worth noticing what the NGO does is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim must be as a reconstruction of the society such that existence of poverty is impossible- that is kindness. Sympathy givers and charity workers are like the slave owners of erstwhile USA, who were kind to their slaves. The kindness made the slaves thank their stars for being bought by a kind family, and prevented them from revolting and helping the educated and egalitarian men like Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens. Charity delays the solution.”

Her words left me confused, and with nothing to say. She just in a few moments had denied, debated and convinced me the uselessness of charity; and a few moments ago sympathy and pity was the feeling that I had. “So all in all charity is wrong?”

“Yes. Charity done when moved by sympathy is wrong. Charity in a broader sense must be a step towards solution. Your sympathy is just a way of making you feel bad. If sympathy stirred intelligence rather than emotions we would be seeing a governess instead of a child-labor here.”

Her phone rang and she excused herself by saying that her colleague is waiting near the fountain. We exchanged numbers; however I am not sure I am going to call her. She was one amongst us who could see the world without a veil. She understood that we are just running at the same spot, and tiring ourselves out. Probably, I won’t donate someone a ten-rupee note the next time, however what is the solution to it? Being moved by charity is not a detrimental thing, however when that charity doesn't lead the society anywhere, what is the worth of such a charity? Or is charity an excuse out of a complex problem that we are incapable of solving?