Updated: Dec 4, 2019
6th December 1993. Mohini, my compassionate wife wanted to do something thoughtful as a tribute to her late father. She thought it would be nice to provide some warm shawls to the homeless poor. So we bought 100 woollen shawls and distributed some to the cooks, maids, drivers, watchmen etc. in the neighbourhood.
We further decided to drive around at night, find homeless people and gift them the remaining 85 shawls. Believing it would be an appropriate education our young sons Mohit (10) and Pavit (8) we took them along. Always ready for adventure, the boys eagerly accompanied us.
We were amazed that we could not find any homeless person. Damn! They are always hassling people at traffic signals, and yet we couldn't find beggars when we wanted them.
After about 30 minutes of cruising around in the cold we eventually saw near Koregaon Park, a man sitting cross legged under a tree wearing only a loin cloth.
Mohini asked the boys to gift the shawls with their own hands. The boys eagerly grabbed one shawl, leapt out of the car and ran up to him and said "Namaste! it is very cold, we would like you to have this shawl to keep you warm." The boys were shocked when the man scowled at them, snatched the shawl and flung it away. Quite surprised, our sons scampered back to the safety of the car.
We then drove towards the railway station, there would certainly be some poor people near there. After about a further half hour, we finally spotted a man near the Sadhu Vaswani Circle. There he was, dressed in simple and thin cotton clothes. He seemed lost in thought, sitting cross legged on the pavement, between a large plastic shopping bag on either side. Unnerved by the previous encounter, our sons cautiously walked up to him and without a word handed him a shawl.
He was taken aback, he returned the shawl saying, "I don't want or need this shawl." The boys pressed him to keep it, saying "Don't worry you don't have to pay for it. It's a gift and it will keep you warm during these cold winter nights."
He replied in a strange tone, "I am already struggling to cope with so many possessions" and he pointed to the two plastic bags. "Please take your shawl back as I have no place to keep it. Thank you for your kindness but I am quite comfortable."
Confused and dejected the boys returned back to the car. They refused to proceed with the humanitarian effort that night.
Mohit said "Really strange, we thought these guys were poor, but they behave like they are very wealthy, mom, dad don't you think they are crazy? Sitting in the cold, no roof over his head and
content with his meagre possessions and . How can that be possible?"
We had no answer as we drove back home silently, each of us lost in our thoughts, mulling over what had just transpired. It has been many years since that incident but none of us speaks about charity in the same arrogant or patronising manner anymore. Much, much later we finally came to realise the meaning of that evening.
The wealthy are not those who have much, but those that have stopped desiring more.
By accepting the donation the recipient defines the donor.
The next day we handed the remaining shawls to the Gurudwara for distribution to whom they felt were needy.