Sometimes, all They Need is Sympathy

Posted on April 2, 2010

Mohnish Bagree:

Downstairs, one of the servants from my hostel was sitting in a boorish black T-shirt and trousers which appeared more like shorts from one side. I was taking my towel to dry outside my room on the rope. When I just cleaned my face with it, his muckiness caught my thought. I saw him for a second or two while he was hurriedly enjoying his nap and then came back to my room. Yet, I could not but think about his deprived state. ‘Should I go back and offer him some help or let it go?; God is there for people like him’, these thoughts flooded my mind. Eventually, letting my angelic side win, I took out an old T-shirt of mine from the cupboard which I hadn’t worn for many months and offered it to him. His sudden revival from a siesta, the strange look on seeing an unacquainted figure like me and then a gentle yet deep smile to see the seemingly new T-shirt were all unmatchable gestures to make me feel like I was doing God’s own work.

How often do we actually try and take a step forward to show sympathy and do something when we see someone, genuinely in need? (Forget about beggars who don’t work to earn from everyone appealing only to their pity). It’s a common thing to sympathize with the underprivileged or those who are bearing the worst of conditions but is sympathy sufficient to bring normality to someone’s life? While interacting with few of my friends, I realized different views on how, in India, the affordable class works towards the dejected community. Two days back, the co-founder of Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates was in India discussing with Mayawati, the ‘statue’ woman, on how she was interested in providing sustainable support to life-saving innovations that affect social and cultural change to bring down the unacceptably high death rates for children under five-years of age in UP and Bihar. Few said it’s a shame that we as insiders are unaware of such situations and if ARE aware, we overlook it, while an outsider seems more concerned.

A friend who is a budding entrepreneur at VIT University says, “We may take one look at someone dressed lowly and feel bad about it, but don’t care to donate a small part of our income to charity thereby anticipating the money building up the lives of few.” This is true to the current context where we have 53 billionaires but we hardly fall upon stories of some charitable work by these tycoons. One effort that a common man can do is buy consumer products which share some percentage of its cost with poor people through many programmes, considering that many of us don’t have the time to actually go to donation camps. Making donations or extending monetary help to the poor is not a compulsion but a self-righteous act of doing a good deed. Another one of my friends who is a CAT aspirant asks, why shell out cash to those who even if helped will do least or nothing to add to our economy? Well, the validation of this point stands if we consider a situation where the money donated to trusts is not utilised to raise the needy (it is taken as indirect help) or when the direct receiver of cash wastes it on alcohol or any other useless thing. The status quo of no outcome according to the supporting doubt can be dealt with if we donate things like books, clothes, food, free education etc. to them. This will solve the problem of misuse of money to some extent. Most of the poor people in our country are uneducated too. And expecting them to chip in to economy would be asking a mute to shout while pinching to signal if it hurts. When we help them, we expect them to become, at some stage of life, a fisherman on their own rather than always counting on the feeder.

I was involved in social service at a local orphanage where along with my college mates, I gave lessons to children of Class 6 and 7. These colleagues obviously have a different dimension to explain the help they provide beyond sympathy. They don’t call it a service or a contribution, instead an amalgamation of true love, honest help, knowledge and situations where people know how to attain gratification despite lacking all the luxuries of life. One cannot imagine the cheer those children experience when they see us coming and giving them a different experience of knowledge and learning, how the world looks like outside an orphanage and making them feel like they have guardians equally caring and pampering as their parents if they were alive.

You may not know the last five Heisman Trophy winners or the last decade’s worth of World Series winners or the Pulitzer’s prize, but you can definitely name three friends who have helped you in difficult times or have made you feel special and appreciated. Analogously, the people who make a difference to poor peoples life are not the ones with most credentials, most money or most awards; they are simply the ones who care the most with substance and not just feelings.

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