Sunday, September 5, 2010

Generosity, Part II

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Generosity and How It Happens. I talked about the citizens of Delhi who seemed to have a more highly developed spirit of generosity than we do here in Dehradun.

I’m afraid I have to withdraw that impression.

I had based my judgment on the ubiquitous presence of little cards on Delhi restaurant tables informing customers that 10 rupees was being added to their bill as a voluntary contribution to a charity – in this case one devoted to the welfare of stray animals. When we tried to do something similar in Dehradun, our proposal was rejected in every restaurant we approached as their owners said they would lose their customers if they instituted such a policy.

This seemed too pathetic to believe (ten rupees!) and we concluded that Delhi must just be more evolved than Dehradun.


This week, I visited some of those same restaurants in Delhi again. In Khan Market, reportedly Asia’s 3rd most expensive shopping area and home to some of the world’s most exclusive brands (almost without exception non-essential luxury items), the restaurant where I had first seen the cards no longer had them. My friend, Rachel, and I questioned our waitress who explained that too many people had objected, saying they didn’t want to donate to a fund for animals when children were hungry and living on the streets. (Implying that since they only had ten rupees to donate – those Khan Market shoppers are hard up, after all – they preferred it should go to the charity of their choice.)

In a further conversation with the manager, he said dealing with irate customers (one even threatened to sue him) got to be such a hassle they preferred to put an end to the experiment and just keep a box by the register for voluntary contributions.

Predictably, the box is fairly empty.

Rachel told me she had been to an even posher restaurant a few nights earlier where, for a party of four, the bill came to Rs 7500. While waiting for her receipt, she had noticed the same People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals card on the table and picked it up to show her colleagues. Immediately, the waitress rushed over to reassure her: “Madame, it’s only ten rupees, and it’s a voluntary contribution,” as if she knew, from bitter experience, that people paying a bill of Rs 7500 often found an extra ten too much to deal with.

Later, wandering around in the market, I happened to overhear a woman on the phone making arrangements to have her driver take an amount of cash to a mall in Gurgaon where he would collect whatever it was she was buying. After explaining the details to the person at the other end, she said, almost as an afterthought: “So how much is it? 60K? Oh, one lakh. Teek hai. Byeeeee.”

From 60,000 to 100,000 without batting an eyelid, but an extra ten rupees on a restaurant bill and suddenly, it’s a matter of principle.

Several people commented on my earlier post saying that they didn’t like the practice of adding ten rupees to the bill because they couldn’t be sure the money was actually going to the NGO in question. And that even if it was, they couldn’t be sure the money would be well spent.

True. There are no guarantees. Some things we have to take on trust. But it is interesting that these are the things we choose to quibble over and cast doubt upon. The people who balk at the ten rupees are the same people who argue with the coolie who just carried three heavy bags from the Pahar Ganj side to Track 16 at Ajmeri Gate, loaded them all up onto the luggage rack and made sure they were comfortably seated before asking for the cost of his labor. I watched a man I later found out was an IAS officer heading to Mussoorie for a 25th year reunion hand the coolie 20 rupees and then, grudgingly, when he protested, another 10.

But serve this fellow a cup of tea in a five-star restaurant, give him a bill for Rs 250 and see if he argues with the waiter and insist that all he will pay is what HE thinks the price should be. Ironically, he could actually make himself a cup of tea at home for a tiny fraction of what a hotel charges. In a million years, he couldn’t achieve what the bone-thin coolie did when he carried his bags from one end of the station to the other. But who does he argue with?

Objecting on principle (um, what principle was it again?) to ten rupees being added to a restaurant bill in a decent restaurant whose owners have no reason to be suspected of dishonesty and when the money is going to a known charity seems like a red herring.

But the fact that people DO object, when the amount really is so tiny, leads one to wonder how small their lives might be, and to consider whether they are the ones to feel sorry for rather than the charity which doesn’t get their money. Is this really their idea of “standing on principle”? Could they really have felt a moral victory had been achieved when those cards were removed from all the restaurant tables?

Open-handed generosity is a joy and a blessing which must be practiced to be understood. And I, for one, have lost track of the number of times I have been prodded into giving to a beggar on the side of the road because of seeing my auto driver dig into his pocket (far less lined than mine) to give a coin or two.

If, occasionally, “our” money goes into the wrong hands, so be it. Consider it a tax for all that has come to us unearned, undeserved. Living large, sharing freely from the abundance one has been freely given makes for a kinder heart and a sweeter life, and creates the channel through which even more blessings will flow through the world in an endless cascade of goodness.


kanica... said...

The bag has certainly earned immense popularity minus the pounds!

Entropy said...


You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing
that is more than your own.
Let it brush your cheeks
as it divides and rejoins behind you.

Blessed ones, whole ones,
you where the heart begins:
You are the bow that shoots the arrows
and you are the target.

Fear not the pain. Let its weight fall back
into the earth;
for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.

The trees you planted in childhood have grown
too heavy. You cannot bring them along.
Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.


Entropy said...

In the words of Emerson, The sanity of society is a balance of a thousand insanities.

Moreover, If a society has to function, it requires millions of selfless acts. This work is not the responsibility of government…