It was a beautiful morning, and I was returning home after a sleep over at a friends place. Being a horrible singer I capitalised on the opportunity to sing the songs nobody around me, for all right reasons, allows me to sing. A soft drizzle, a gentle wind, lots of green in my vision, it seemed perfect, and I was lost in the moment, when an image disrupted the flow. I had to stop.It was a middle age man without a leg looking for a ride. Though he didn’t have a leg, and was with crutches, looked miserably poor, it didn’t invite pity, yet I stopped for some inexplicable reason. Everything about his eyes and smile screamed wickedness, but I had to ask him where he wanted to go. He asked me where I wanted to go, and I sniffed some scheming, but I told him anyway. I knew he would say he was going there, and he did. I had met such people before, and many times, because I can’t stop myself from giving a ride to anyone looking for it. I knew the plot; he would ask me what I did, praise me for helping him, and then tell his story- he had no money and had to return to his village, and would look at me with beseeching eyes, saying that I was the last hope of humanity for him. Though I knew the plot, I was prepared to give him a hundred rupee note at the end of the one mile journey. May be it was the beauty of early morning that had gone inside me, or the remnance of last nights ballentine, I was feeling unusually good and I wanted to supplement it by doing an act of charity. As I stopped and was ready to take the money out, to my surprise nothing as what I had imagined happened; he thanked me, smiled wickedly, and disappeared in a narrow lane I felt sure he didn’t stay in. Slightly astonished, I kick started my bike and headed off towards my home. I had hardly gone few metres when something struck my mind. I hoped it wasn’t true.
I had some money, seven hundred and fifty to be exact, in my hind pocket, and I had felt something, I remembered, around that area when the man was sitting behind, but I dared not touch and see if it was still there. I just hoped it was a bad thought. I don’t know why but I couldn’t stop or turn to see him or feel my pocket to reject the bad thought, and kept riding, hoping half optimistically, but optimisim was receding and by the time I reached the parking pessimism had completely taken me over. Apprehensively, I checked, and found that the pessimism wasn’t baseless; the man had taken it all. All seven hundred and fifty except an old ten rupee note which had got stuck at the depth of the pocket.
It took me some time to react to the situation. It was a peculiarly odd situation to be in. I was neither angry at the wicked man with crutches, nor was I upset at losing money; in fact I didn’t know how it felt. Thinking about this strange happening I lazily climbed up the stairs. My father opened the door; I quietly walked to my room, and sat beside my study table. My mind was finding it difficult to contemplate and comprehend. What was I suppose to do? Tell my parents how the world had turned wicked. There was no goodness left, and vent out my anger on the world filled with selfishness and greed. But, how could I say that; that wasn’t my feeling. I was simply confounded with the novel experience. It had never happened to me before. But, I had to tell them the little incident, perhaps in hope of getting some clarity, and also because they had already sensed that something was bothering me.
My father, as expected, blasted off with abuses, about how money centric the world had become, there was no humanity left, and there was no place for gullible people like me. I paid no heed to him and kept delving, precipitously, deep into that little occurence.
I thought, if I became angry, what would be that anger against; against the man, who, in spite of his wicked appearence, surely needed the money more than me. If I became upset for the lost money, how was it justifed; one drink last night had cost me more than that. But, if that was the case, why was I thinking so much? My mother brought me breakfast but I didn’t feel like eating. I went out to smoke, hoping it would clear my doubts.
The focus shifted from my reaction to how generally people reacted to such incident. Why did people, like my father, get angry? Perhaps, they felt a sense of betrayal of the silent, unsaid trust people like him expect of humanity, and an incident as such disturbed the harmony of their assumption. When he was shouting, it wasn’t because I had lost money, but because the humanity had let him down. He couldn’t understand how could a fellow human cheat other; and, of course, because he couldn’t think of cheating anyone. My mother looked upset; again, it wasn’t the money; her reasons were the same as my father but she felt sad at betrayal. Was there any other way of reacting, I thought? Yes, my brother’s wife had given that perspective from the kitchen after I had narrated the incident. She called it destiny; for her there was nothing good or bad about it; it happened because it had to happen. My brother had asked me, as I crossed him on my way out, to think of it as an act of charity and forget it. Surprising, none of the reactions involved loss of money as a factor. It was perhaps a bigger issue than money. But, was there any other reaction to this simple incident, that happens to most of us at some point of time, if not the same incident, at least it’s variant, than the ones I saw at home.
The incident had completely taken over my mind within an hour of it’s occurence. It didn’t matter if I tried to think of something else, my mind hurriedly went back to it. The weather and the conditions hadn’t changed much when I was going to work, but my mind had turned inwards completely. Why couldn’t I get it over and move ahead? What was so special about the incident? Anyway, I knew what I would have done with those seven hundred and fifty, and it was nothing very important, nor was the amount, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had planned-two packets of cigarette, a biryani for lunch, and a packet of chips and cold drinks for the kids I taught. And, then I thought what he would do with that money. By then I had lost his wicked expression and was just thinking of him as a poor wretch. It started with a romantic image of a poor man buying food for his family; I was not much touched by it but I thought seven hundred and fifty was enough for a poor family to buy enough food for a week. My few indulgences and his basic needs; I felt the money in his hand had more value than it had in my hands. He had multiplied the value of money many folds by taking it from my pocket, much less the happiness he would get from it. It felt something, though I couldn’t be sure if it was happiness; but the simple idea transcended me to the sphere where we all talk about charity. Wasn’t it simply an act of charity, except for that I wasn’t aware of it when it happened, and the realization came a little later. And, hadn’t I often talked about it, about helping others, so what was bothering me from being gratified as I had felt earlier while helping others. Was it my shallowness-because the man had not recieved but appropriated the charity from me, hadn’t seen in my eyes, and said few heartfelt words filled with gratitude. Was my big talks about charity all about the gratification I felt at the end because the other made me feel superior, and nothing more! No, it wasn’t, I realized: I was starting to get a feeling, slowly spreading inside me, in fact very slowly, but it was burgeoning.
It was a novel feeling; I had never felt anything like that before, and by evening it had filled me completely, and it felt better than the feeling I had had in the morning, or rather in a long time. Once again, I was on the bike, riding amidst the soft drizzle, gentle rain and lots of green in my vision, and I understood what it was. I had understood the true feeling of charity.
It didn’t involve me. I was nobody. I had become insignificant.
As the gentle breeze hit my face I realized how wrong I had been till then by involving myself in the act of charity, unknowingly feeding on the vulnerability of those in need of help. I had unwittingly, till then, made myself superior by offering my help to the one’s in need. If I really wanted to help I should have just helped, and kept myself away from taking that higher position. The realization seemed to lighten me by every passing moment. The lame wretch had taught me a true lesson in charity. Only the act was important; not me, not my will, not my way; in fact nothing except for the fact that a man in need got his need fulfilled. What if he stole the money! Why should he wait for someone, in his vanity, with a charitable mood, to come and throw few pennies in his hand! Because one families hunger can’t wait for another man’s charitable mood. He, surely, meant no harm to me, and though one’s philosophy about right and wrong might be disturbed at this idea, my didn’t; it only strengthened mine. The man had taught me humility I had forgotten; the humility that had been taught to me as a kid. The old saying about charity that says if you are donating with right hand your left shouldn’t know flashed in front of my eyes. Only the act of transference from the one with excess to the one with need is important. The wretched man had taught me a valuable and significant lesson; something that would stay with me till the end, and how much did he charge for his service; a trifle; a mere seven hundred and fifty. I had never valued money before, neither I had ever recieved such value for money. The most wisely spent money for a long long time. It felt good.
In the evening, as I sat with few friends to drink, I told them the story, hiding the details of my thoughts. They said I was an idiot to help people that way and give a ride to anyone: it wasn’t help but foolishness. Hadn’t I heard about people being robbed by strangers? They said the man wasn’t buying food for his family, but probably drinking at some shady pub, and telling others the tale of an idiot he had lightened by seven hundred and fifty. I laughed with them. I was probably an idiot, as they said, but it felt good being an idiot, and it didn’t even matter what he did with the money. Whatever he did, he had already given more than enough to me in exchange.
As I was about to sleep, I recieved a message from my friend. He had found seven hundred fifty rupee on the bed I had slept last night. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. The money kept on giving me more and more, but I couldn’t take any more. I felt like the richest person in the world, smiled, asked him to give it to some beggar, and drifted off to a deep slumber, thinking about the lame wretch who unknowingly had taught me something I wouldn’t forget for long.