Written by: Vineet Saraiwala
Is there a Shangri-la where wealth is distributed and not accumulated?
What will happen if you give money to children for free?
Does lower literacy rate mean lower compassion quotient?
What could a bunch of Auto Walas do to serve the destitute?
Which is the only festival of India which is celebrated by all Indians?
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” This is Gandhi’s most famous saying and we have 3+1 brilliant such stories narrated by a few exceptional volunteers entrenched into service on the occasion of the commencement of the annual extravaganza #DaanUtsav from October 2 this year.
We have Bipin from Orissa who is mapping human compassion instead of his work as a cartographer, Amit from Jaipur whose numerous initiatives have served thousands of lives during the pandemic and Rockstar Ashish, who has moved away from the glitzy corporate career to the Maoist-affected area of Bastar with his family to create a difference in the lives of tribal children there.
You go to a stall and pick up a blanket that you require for the harsh winter. You also have a sumptuous lunch and sweet tea. Your eyes cannot believe the sight with thousands of people taking slippers, clothes, bedsheets, sticks, torches, shoes for free and equally enthusiastic volunteers giving it so generously. There is a separate stall where all the givers are shouting, “Mera ye paanch sau (This is my Rs 500)”, ye lo do hazaar (Take my Rs 2,000)”. Everyone is giving whatever they can and everyone is telling whatever they require.
From tea to water and tent, everything seemed a gift. Does this utopian place even exist? A place where wealth is being freely distributed instead of being accumulated in boxes and lockers? There is a Shangri-aa like this, Badabarsingh in Orissa, and these scenes are common during the annual festival of Giving — #DaanUtsav. It was sparked when a family with no child and hence no marriage function started celebrating Daan Utsav with the entire community.
The Reserve Bank of India had released new ten-rupee currency notes and we distributed these notes to nearly 100 children. We asked them to do an act of good for someone else. Some children made greeting cards for their friends, while some made misal pav for their security guards; some bought medicines for a neighbour, while a cute child offered pastry to her friend who’d never bought tiffin to school. Recently, we asked two girls to make sweets to felicitate a corona warrior and gave them money for the sweets.
These two girls, who are living in a slum, refused to say that it was their duty. We truly understood homeless people during the 2014 #DaanUtsav where one of the NGOs started an initiative called Under The Stars, a walk in the night to meet homeless people in Mumbai, starting all the way from Maratha Mandir, Kamathipura and JJ Hospital till Chowpatty. All corporate honchos like us understood what homelessness was at a deeper level. It was ver motivating to see a sweeper whose salary was Rs 7,000/- writing a cheque for Rs 100/- when we installed a Wish Tree at one of the corporate premises.
Sukma and Dantewada are amongst the few places with the highest illiteracy rates in the country, but when it comes to the goodness in the heart of their children, no one can beat them. From organising a community gathering in the nearby school for the villagers to volunteering for seven straight days during the harvest season to help the elderly and cleaning the Public Health Centre, children of Sukma have a heart of gold. They felicitated senior citizens from their village and started a transport facility for small children who had to walk long distances from hostels to their schools. The face that these ideas were conceptualised and executed solely by them is what makes these initiatives even more incredible.
The Adivasis in the nearby forest don’t have a family photo, so we get the entire family together and click their snap. We frame this photo and give it as a gift during Daanutsav and it’s very touching for the family. These are priceless treasures that bring so many smiles all around us. We have local businessmen and individuals who would come for a selfie with their cakes once a year. This does not lead to anything while these children are bringing deeper change in their own small ways.
Almost 5,000 auto drivers from Bhubaneshwar pooled in money and did something extraordinary during Daanutsav — they arranged a luxury bus to take 80 destitute elderly residents of Bhubaneswar on a Jagannatha Darshan trip to Puri. For many of them, it was their first darshan (visit). The drivers tied up with the local administration and the Police Commissioner of Puri to personally garland each of the 80 people at the entrance.
“Even our children never treated us with such respect,” one of the tearful elderlies said. This action was a brilliant gesture of compassion from the auto drivers who themselves earn little. And even when Covid hit their earnings, they generosity poured resources from across the country to collect over Rs 32 lacs. There is a famous Odia saying, “Deithile Pai (If given, then you are assured to get)” and it is so true, right?
Whether it’s giving off material wealth or provisions for the festival in Badabarsingh, a donation of Rs 100 by a sweeper, volunteering your time in cutting of crops in sukma, #DaanUtsav is celebrated every year from October 2 to 8 with this feeling of service. During #DaanUtsav, people perform acts of kindness by giving their time, material or money in interesting ways to any cause(s) they believe in. There are some stories that you read, some stories which force you to reflecting, and some stories that inspire you, but these stories are not written for any motivation, reflection or reading — it’s time for some action #India. Whether we are a school, corporate, or an apartment, NGO, or individual, we all can do our bit. So, stop reading and get volunteering this Daan Utsav to feel the joy of giving with this melodious song by Ram Sampath.
PS: No one owns #DaanUtsav! Like Diwali, Id, Christmas, Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, anyone around the world can celebrate the festival. We the citizens of the world are the most important part of the festival and have the onus of spreading the dwindling values of compassion and giving in our own ways.