Giving unconditionally

My paternal grandparents were not affluent, our grandfather just being the headmaster in a municipal school. Salaries were meager and feeding so many mouths was not easy. Food was never scarce and though there were no fancy dishes, everyone was well fed on wholesome food.  Two older uncles and my father were earning, but being married with children of their own, the situation remained the same becaue there were two  unmarried brothers and one sister in addition to sundry relatives who visited Chennai.

Having given the background, I will now relate the story I have heard many times from my mother and elder sisters. My grandmother, who had died several years before my birth was a unique woman — pious, affectionate and simple, she loved girl children giving them preferential treatment.

While she protested against any child getting a beating from its parents, she was vociferous in protecting the girls and would gather them to her bosom, defying the parents to touch them as they were goddesses incarnate to her. She had lovingly named each of them after one goddess or another. (Perhaps I didn’t get one because I was born after her demise 😦 )

If she had a soft corner for her granddaughters, she also could not send any beggar from her door without feeding him or her. All she had to hear a voice calling out, ‘Amma, thaaye!’ and she would be galvanized into action. The oldest uncle would scold her to keep mum since it was a job feeding even the members of the large joint  family without having to feed beggars. And she would calmly tell him that she was only giving her share of food to him, since it was, ‘Tirupathi Balaji himself’ or any other god or goddess she remembered then, who had come to the door for food. She would say that God wanted her to fast that day and so had come to her door in person!  And not stopping at that, she would proceed to fill her plate with food and give it all to the beggar who would lavishly bless her and her family, while she fondly watched him eat!

If grandmother fed the poor, grandfather did one better. He would go to the market to buy vegetables and bring back a bagful of rotten, pest-ridden vegetables. When he was asked why he couldn’t get good ones, he would calmly reply, ‘That poor fellow had a big mound of vegetables and no one was buying from him. If he didn’t sell anything, how can he feed his children? Just throw out the rotten ones and use the good ones. Look, there is a cow at the door, she can eat those!’

Wow! A truly made-for-each-other-couple! It might sound like mush, but all the annadanam that old couple did then, despite not being rich or having too much themselves, has kept the families of their children and grandchildren and great grand children in relative comfort and even luxury today. Giving is good when you have plenty but giving when you yourself have so little to spare is divine. It is the highest form of spirituality.

Food is always a comforting thing. We have what is called ‘comfort foods’ when we are feeling blue, out of sorts and ill. During my childhood, I remember going to my maternal grandparents’ house in the next street. Contrary to my paternal grandparents, they were well-to-do. But they shared the same quality of giving and sharing as my other set of grandparents.

The house used to fascinate me, not only because of the multistoried structure and the presence of my grandparents, several uncles and aunts and cousins, but the abundance of food. One item that really held my interest was the huge storage bin with its fine grains of rice, treated with turmeric and oil to keep away insects. It was placed in the niche of the staircase and we kids used to put our hands and play with the grains till our grandmother shooed us away saying that one should not play with food. The rice was only one of the things that fascinated me; there was the huge bunch of humongous bananas in the pooja room of which kids got just one half each. Even that half used to be bigger than the whole ones we had at home.

No one who came to the house ever went without a meal. Depending upon what time it was, they were fed breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks – something. The little visitors got some fruit or eatable. I especially loved the handful of tiny ‘dollar biscuits’ that the oldest uncle gave us.’

We talk of food, blog about it, exchange recipes, and discuss the plus and minus points of eateries. But how many of us can honestly say we have experienced hunger  – not the hunger pangs we feel at stipulated mealtimes but real hunger – when the insides are getting knotted up, when your stomach is gnawing away at the emptiness, when your ears close up as if you are flying at high altitudes? And it is not just a temporary thing either, but something that goes on and on till the gnawing becomes a dull ache and then completely subsides to lethargic acceptance.

All religions hold feeding the poor as the highest form of charity and I can vouch for the fact and I am sure many of you who are reading this would do too – that it comes back manifold not only to those who actually do this ‘daan’ but also to their successors many generations over.

In this New Year, we should all take a pledge to look at the hungry of the world and try to do our mite towards easing their plight. There are so many ways to do it, feed them, donate to the organizations that either feed them or rehabilitate them; at least look at them with compassion and not irritation.

I hope I am not late for the Akshaya Patra blogger initiative, but even if I am I fervently hope that this blog post helps feed 50 children. If it does, I would have made my two sets of grandparents happy.

WISH YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR FOLKS!

29 comments

  1. Wow–what grandparents!!! What lovely values you must have inherited! No matter you write so beautifully–because it comes from the genorosity that is inherent in you now. My pranams to your elders and to you. They say in touching the feet of a person is not some thing servile but rather a way of saying–your feet is the foundation of your personality–by touching it, may I imbibe your qualities. I love you so much Zephyr!

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    1. Unfortunately I only remember my grandfather vaguely since I was only about five when he passed away. I was named after my grandmother though. What I learnt from my other set of grandparents was that having less or plenty was not the issue, but having the heart to give was important. We should touch the feet of such great people to imbibe as you say, their values.

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  2. We have to be grateful everyday that we have so much of everything and in abundance. It is only when we think of the number of children begging in the streets of Mumbai or other Indian cities do we realise that they are yearning for that one meal. As bloggers we can help to raise awareness and support such noble causes! May god bless you:-)

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    1. Welcome here Sajeev Kumar. Hunger is there in many third world countries. It is sad that we have such a sharp divide of the haves and have-nots that it is sometimes appalling even to contemplate the quantities of food that is wasted by the haves. It is a pity that we don’t have a system of collecting excess food from hotels and weddings to be distributed to the hungry. it is horrifying to see them fight for the scraps with even stray dogs at garbage dumps.

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  3. tweedlethumb · · Reply

    Great initiative by the Akshaya Patra foundation. And, wonderful write up.

    There is so much that needs to be done…

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    1. Thanks Tweedlethumb. If we looked to our elders and forefathers. we can find a lot of inspiration to do good. They lived the parts of good samaritans without having to make an effort or try to be nice.

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  4. Loved this one. Nice writeup. It really feels great when you feed someone in need and you get their blessings which gives much more satisfaction than getting any other materialistic gifts. Keep blogging!

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    1. Welcome here Prathima. Feeding even one person is satisfying. One need not feed a batallion to get the same satisfaction. Gifts are increasingly becoming commercial to my mind. I will, keep blogging, I mean. But do keep visiting 😀

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  5. I agree..but most of the time people ask for money only.

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    1. That’s true, but when they ask only for money, they are not really hungry, I guess. Once there was this woman at the signal with a little kid on her hip begging. I took out the banana I had bought and gave it to the kid. You should have seen the eyes light up and he had immediately peeled it! I felt really good for having made a child happy. We can look for small satisfaction like that too 🙂

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  6. Pratibha · · Reply

    Certainly a wonderful post.

    On my father-in-law’s first death anniversary we performed the rituals as my mother-in-law wanted. I was disappointed that the twelve brahmins whom we fed & gave gifts too, asked for money as their ‘fees’ and conveyance charges. Sounded more like the TA-DA bill I submit after performing official duties.
    Since my husband also had the same feelings, we decided to feed some poor people. I found out some old homes & orphanages, & told them that I wanted to bring food for the inmates. They refused to accept it. They wanted only cash or some gifts. Now, this will again be like giving money to NGOs. Not only does this lack personal touch, as you rightly said, a good part of money is spent on activities other than helping poor.
    I have seen beggars outside religious places, collecting food through out the day & at the end of the day, choosing & eating the best of their collection. Next morning the road is littered with the food they have discarded. If you give them some biscuit packets or like, they sell it off at half the rates.
    You are right in saying that today, we lack compassion. But do you found ‘genuinely’ hungry people? If you offer food, they ask for money.

    I would really be grateful, if somebody could tell me about a place, in Pune, where I could feed about 30-40 people. I am limiting the number as I intend to cook myself.

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  7. Very few pieces of writing can move one’s emotions with words;this post is truly one of them.Every holy scripture in the world states that feeding the hungry is the most noble deed you can do,we are ready to give thousands as offerings in temples but refuse a glass of water to the thirsty;strange world it has become 😦

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    1. Nice to see you back here WJ! Yes, we are becoming more and more selfish by the day. So wrapped up in ourselves are we, that we fail to look around us and feel for the less fortunate.

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      1. You are so right about not finding genuinely hungry people. the fact is that even begging has become commercial these days and all that you have mentioned is a sad fact. There must be destitute homes in Pune where you can take food to distribute with your own hands. I am sure the inmates would appreciate it and you will find satisfaction in feeding them too.

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  8. very nobly written. very inspirational one.

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    1. Older generations were more compassionate than us for sure.

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  9. noble post….
    well said

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    1. A post about noble souls, more like it 🙂

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  10. Touched!!! Beautiful post,
    Made me remember my grandfather who fed anyone coming at the doorstep, didn’t matter if his own kids went to sleep on an empty stomach.He even kept a bucket ouside the doorstep so that the cows moving about could drink from it, of they felt thirsty.
    Today we join social networks but do not want to even give a glass of water to any one who visits unannounced. What a change isn’t it

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    1. They were blessed people who could connect with those less fortunate. Like you say, we are getting involved in social groups that do more planning and talking than actually doing. I know of big NGOs which spend so much time, effort and money to keep records, send reports and hold seminars and get press coverage for their work. Instead if the money is spent to help those they espouse to, it would bear fruit. Not just feeding, but making them capable of feeding themselves. As individuals we of course can do out little mite for the less fortunate of us.

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  11. B’ful post. There are many organizations such as UNICEF , CRY etc who have online donation schemes & monthly donor programs dedicated to various causes. I certainly hope we all find time & compassion to visit these / other forums n do smthng abt the issues rather thn just talkin abt them.

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    1. As i replied to SRA, we are content giving money and resources (not time) to charities, who, for their part have expanded so much that the personal touch is slowly disappearing, making them just funding agencies. social work should be made compulsory at school and college level to sensitise our children to others’ pain and need.

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  12. The story of your grandparents is something to be proud of.There are some people and NGo s in towns who are even collecting left over excess food from houses and hotels for the ‘poor feed’.There is no dearth of ideas to lent a helping hand.

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    1. We all are proud of them and hope they would have been proud of us had they been alive today. We are increasingly becoming ‘donor’do-gooders’ without personal involvement in the actual giving. That’s where we lag behind the earlier generations.

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  13. You post reminded me of a story narrated by singer Usha Uthup. she used to visit Missionaries of Charity and during one such visit she met Mother Teresa and asked her, “What can I do to support your work and cause?”

    Mother then asked Usha that whenever she goes to a party she must ask the host to give her the leftover food which will feed the hungry.

    Giving is a virtue not everyone has! Wonderful post Zephyr

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    1. If we look around, we can find ways to help people without joining groups or NGOs even. Mother Theresa was an angel wasn’t she?

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      1. I agree, size of the help doesn’t matter, its the effort which makes the difference!

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  14. Oh Zephyr what a heartfelt post this was. And so beautifully put. True, you don’t need to be moneyed to have a large heart. And I especially loved this line..Giving is good when you have plenty but giving when you yourself have so little to spare is divine. It is the highest form of spirituality.

    A standing ovation for this write up!!!

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    1. Whenever I hear the story about my grandparents, I feel a sense of pride, for being their granddaughter and wish i had been able to meet my grandmother. Compassion is what is in short supply in today’s intolerant world.

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