My teenage daughter said to me the other day, “Mom, there are these little children in front of my college who are often begging for money. Instead of giving them money, I buy them cream buns…”. I was at a loss for words, what could I possibly say to her? Don’t feed beggars - that would only create more beggars? I had tried that, for a few years at least, and nothing changed. So I went back to being charitable. I simply said to her: good that you do that.
The conversation did not end there though. She was agitated that little children have to be out on the streets begging; that their parents are callous enough to procreate without the means for supporting them. Then as a parent I had to address a deeper issue. So I said, you are able to talk about these ‘ideas’ because you are educated. Ideas are in the realm of thought and thought is a luxury only the well-to-do can afford. For the poor, the only instinct is survival. Procreation is only a by-product of their survival instincts. In their world, there is no thought about the implications of bringing a child into this world.
And there are plenty of poor people in India, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world. This is the India that we are leaving behind to our children. Could we have done better? Where did we fail? These are questions that plague many of us. Is the government responsible for not being able to address poverty even after 65 years of independence? Or are we as citizens responsible for electing successive ineffective governments to power? Are educated Indians escapists who never come forward to get involved in politics? Are NRIs even worse escapists who have fled the country to go enrich other economies with their skills and aptitudes while their homeland rots? Or are they in a better position to give back to society than Indians back home are?
How have other more developed nations fixed these problems when they had them? Europe and America have gone through devastating wars and come out to restore their cities, villages and their economies? How did Japan outride nuclear disasters and still managed to rise as a developed economy? How do Jews and other races that have been through oppression regained resilience to rewrite success stories? Is there something called a national character?
There are also metaphysical questions. Is charity a screwed up perverted way of self-aggrandizement? That it only helps us to not face the tremendous amount of guilt that’s on our conscience for being amongst the more fortunate? By doling out the occasional amount are we only worsening and perpetuating the problem?
Am I rambling? I don’t think so. I am only searching for answers to these and many other questions. And I hope I am not alone.
Photo credit: Greg Younger