Thursday, January 08, 2009 

Even These Least

(Note : Normal programming resumes soon. Really, I mean, Hopefully).

The past few weeks have been about conversations about helping, about parents and about the usual bleeding heart stuff.

A brief background. The details are unimportant. Still. An old lady, probably about 65, relatively kempt, carrying about 10 + in cash, enough for her to get mugged. Leaving out details of how I came across her, I realised she was disoriented and unfit to take care of herself, shivering in the cold and rambling. I took her to a nearby place, put in some food into her and probed a bit more. She had medical papers identifying her as a patient for some heart/BP whatever problems and as a depressive. One doc had noted a tendency to skip medication. She is now in a hotel in Delhi, running out of money. My efforts for her were mostly ineffectual. Thankfully, somebody far more effective and formidably networked has taken charge, and while a solution is not in sight, at least people are doing their best. A son, a businessman in a relatively affluent portion of Delhi has shown no interest. The daughter is abroad, and is aware of the situation. Efforts are in hand to make her help.

The lady, like most old ladies, can easily get on your nerves. She is clinically depressed and launches into long rambling tales about her life :how sweet a person her daughter is , her evil son. She has no one to talk to and hence any audience is welcome. Her kids (daughter, as son is not contactable) claim that she has been a patient very many years, is obstinate, has in fact driven her husband to suicide, is an alcoholic ... and doesn't deserve their help.

I'll not get into a debate about how much (or not) we are to put in towards parents. I'll only paraphrase one of the most balanced,equable (and happy:)) persons I know:-

"I will not compromise the person I am to give them their happiness...'cause there are so many ways to keep them happy. Don't focus on 'how much they have done' to do what you have to do. If you tot up that balance sheet, and it is in your favour, you feel like crap, and if it is in theirs, you end up feeling a righteous saint and wearing a halo. They don't owe you anything, they did the best they could. You don't owe them anything better, you just do the best you can."

It is the portion about "not deserving" that really stabs at me. In my lights, you don't help somebody because they "deserve it". You help because you can. Judging the recipient is an injury to the spirit of giving. I only glance occasionally at Heather's blog, but I was impressed by this post both for the story and for the detailed discussion that follows in the comments.

So this gent rings up, downcast. He was asked for a voluntary project (having undertaken such before), for a most deserving cause. He is already stressed, these are bad times, but hell, how can I refuse ... I replied on the same lines : You don't owe anything, just do the best you can. Just as you don't bother if they "deserve it", don't flagellate yourself for not doing as much as they need. You'll end up merely hurting yourself, or worse, resenting them and a bad example for someone else who might be tempted to help.

I'm not a bleeding heart, by a long shot. I could blame time and space and life, or perhaps it never was in me. I really don't know. Moral triage is something every person carries out on a daily basis, navigating through the million abrasions of the daily grind. Constrained by my own needs, I can and do walk off from situations and places without necessarily feeling heart-broken. What is amazing, however, is that there always seems to be somebody who cares.

"Magar vishwaas ko apne bachaaye kaun baitha hai ?
Andheri raat mein deepak jalaaye kaun baitha hai ?

But who is this who has kept his faith alive? / Who has lit a lamp in this dark night ?

These are cold, cold times, dear heart. Maybe they are merely lamps, giving a feeble light; maybe they aren't able to warm anything except a few hearts. But I see plenty of people around me doing the most unlikely things. The alpha-Punjabi, super-cynical gent in the office who carries strips of biscuit packs in his car, handing them out at the lights to the people who walk up. Even more unbelievable, his daughter who was once in the car and said namaste to them . The middle-class lady wrapped up in a shawl at Sector 8 RK Puram market the other day, buying a plate of steaming hot momos, depositing it in front of the shivering wretch on the roadside and walking off without a word. People who, on a larger scale, are trying to do something, anything that will make at least one more person happy, one more person safe. People like Anuradha Bakshi and Bessie Mathew. I wouldn't know just how they became this way. Perhaps what the king says in The Glass Palace is true ... that there is a life force that takes over.

"... Karuna -One of the Buddha's words, Pali for compassion, for the immanence of all living things in each other, the attraction of life for its likeness. A time will come, he told the girls, when you too discover what this word karuna means, and from that moment on your lives will never again be the same".