By Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
Giving and taking are like two sides of a coin, which are the two natural and emotional characteristics of human beings. Obviously there is a bond of love in these two activities. We like to give things to our loved ones and we also like to accept gifts from them. Imagine our joy when we receive an unexpected gift from somebody. During the festive season the shopkeepers try to lure customers to their shops with promises of free gifts on the basis of their purchases. The gifts may be big or small, but it does not matter in the least. All that we care about is that it is a gift, which is the crux of the matter. Some of these shopping complexes may give a briefcase, or a clock, or something else, while the small shops may offer a ball pen or a key ring or something insignificant. But we are as happy with the small gifts as we are with the big ones. The very word ‘gift’ acts like a talisman on us. It is very exciting and it has the magnetic quality to attract us. Of course there is no trace of love or friendship in these gifts offered for commercial benefits. Still the word “gift” is fascinating and it does lure us to make purchases in those shops, though we may not actually need the things they offer. Such is the impact of that magic word ‘gift’ on us.
Only the other day a gentleman told me that his home resembled more a stationery shop than a respectable residence, with all the free gifts his wife brings home along with her purchases. Apparently the lady goes to buy anything in a shop if the ‘free gift’ tag is attached to it. She may not actually need these things, but she falls for the gift like a ton of bricks. But obviously these free gifts are merely professional strategy to lure customers, based on self-interest. They are not gifts in the ordinary sense, which are something special.
Actually we love to receive gifts from some people, who do not have any selfish interest in their minds, who give just for the joy of giving. The gift as such does not really matter; it may be very costly or it may be very cheap. What matters is the kindly thought of the giver. The gifts which are given with love and kindness may be very simple and cheap, but they bring lots of joy to the recipient.
‘God made man in his own image’—as they say. There is really no dearth of big hearted magnanimous people in this world of ours. These noble people have tried in their own way to make the people happy and to make the world a better place to live in. They are the givers all the way and never the takers. They all may not be rich people, but their happiness lies in giving. Some of these generous people have made donations to various deserving organizations, have helped the poor and the downtrodden and have showered gifts on the sick and the poor. They are generous givers and get immense pleasure out of their noble deeds. But some of them who give so much to others, do not know the pleasure of taking. They do not seem to know that it is very nice and a great joy to receive something from someone, who has given the gift with warmth and love. The gift may be simple and insignificant, but if it is given with real love, then nothing can beat it in its uniqueness. It occupies the pride of place in our homes. The gift by itself is not so very important. What is more important is the kind thought behind it.
But in some kind of giving there is only anguish, pain and prudence and no genuine pleasure at all. For instance, we do not feel any joy when we are forced to pay a hefty sum to various groups of donation-seekers at festival time or at any time for that matter. It is not really donation, but extortion is the apt name for it. They come in groups and demand an exorbitant sum of money on some issue or another and if you protest they might turn belligerent. Naturally you have to bring out your hard-earned money to satisfy them. Perhaps it is fear that makes you give away the money you can ill afford just to get rid of these unscrupulous groups of youths who may turn hostile if you refuse to pay.
But in case of voluntary giving it brings real happiness to the giver. Think about the time when you bought or made something for someone whom you love or respect. You might have spent much time and money on the gift, but you never grudge it. The gift becomes all the more adorable because of your kind feelings. There is also great pleasure in giving some small gift to a person to show gratitude to him, for rendering some selfless service for your benefit. Of course I do not mean to say that the kindness of a person can be repaid by offering a gift. But it is the only kind of acknowledgement and appreciation, which gives more pleasure to the giver than to the recipient, who of course never wants anything for his or her selfless service. But I think that he would certainly be happy to receive the gift as a taken of love from the giver.
Taking a gift which is given with love is as important as giving. But some of these gracious givers are reluctant to take a gift, even if it is given with love and gratitude. I know a particular lady, who has won the hearts of many people with her magnanimity. She has money to burn, but does not have even a trace of arrogance or pride in her behaviour. There are many people with sufficient money, but they are devoid of generosity or kind feelings for anybody. But this lady, I am talking about, does not have a single selfish thought in her mind. She is a typical friday’s child—loving and giving—that is what she is. She has given so much to so many people that they must be grateful to her. Whenever anybody faces a crisis, she is there with the person concerned lending her invaluable moral support. As far as I know she has never failed to help anybody in distress. I know very well that there are many people who believe that they can count on her in any emergency.
I have also noticed that she is extremely generous to everybody and loves to give expensive gifts to various needy acquaintances, and to her friends as well, who do not need them. It is no use objecting, as she gets offended if anybody protests against her extreme generosity. She often says that if it gives her pleasure to buy gifts for other people, then why should they object and deprive her of her happiness? I have tremendous admiration for her. She has so much—money, beauty and brains. Yet she does not have an iota of conceit or arrogance in her. I have not been able to discover a single flaw in her looks or character.
But unfortunately she does not realize that too much generosity can be oppressive and it might be suffocating to some people. Sometimes too many gifts can be overwhelming and embarrassing to certain persons. One does not like to be a taker all the way, however straitened the circumstances may be. There is this lady, who lives near her home and who belongs to the economically backward section. She happens to be a widow and has two children in her hands. She is skilled in needle work and knitting. She ekes out her living by selling various woollen garments and embroidered table cloths and other things. That is how she became acquainted with my friend and true to her nature my friend is very kind to this impoverished lady and often invites her to her home. She showers gifts on her neighbour and her children like confetti. In any function or party this lady belonging to the economically backward section is often seen in my friend’s home. My friend always treats her as an equal and never as an inferior person in the social gradation. Naturally the lady is grateful to her for all the help she has received.
Once the lady confided to me that she was grateful to my friend for treating her as an equal though she knew that she was no match for that gracious talented lady. She wanted to show her gratitude by giving her something made with love and care. But she was a bit confused too. What can you give a person who has apparently everything. After much thought and deliberation finally she decided to make a woollen shawl for her—a shawl knitted with love and respect. She is a wizard in needle work, embroidery and knitting and can create magic with her nibble fingers. People like her products very much and there is a great demand for them. Hence she decided to make the shawl for my friend. Every stitch carried her love and admiration for my friend. She tried hard to make it beautiful and when it was completed she showed it to me. It was truly exquisite by any standard. I was sure that my friend would appreciate the gift. It was very beautiful.
I accompanied the lady on her request to my friend’s house. The lady was very much excited and her eyes were beaming with joy for being able to make a beautiful shawl for her kind benefactress. I was very sure that my friend will be happy with the gift. She welcomed us with real pleasure and after a while the lady offered her precious gift to my friend. But I was totally unprepared for the reaction of my friend. She turned crimson with embarrassment and refused to accept the gift, made with so much love and labour. All the persuasions of the lady left her unmoved. She told her poor neighbour in a kind voice, “It is really very kind of you to knit such a beautiful shawl for me, but totally unnecessary. I already have several shawls and I have not even used some of them. Why did you spend so much money and time on unnecessary things? I don’t need it. Please take it back. Don’t waste money. After all, you need it”, she said reproachfully. Then perhaps observing the hurt in the eyes of the lady she tried to mitigate it and continued very kindly, “But the shawl is really beautiful. You sell it to somebody. I am sure it will fetch a good amount of money to you.”
She talked with us for some time and was the same gracious lady I had always known. She offered us tea and snacks. After taking tea the lady took her leave, and hugging her precious rejected gift she left. I could see the pain in her eyes. But strangely enough my friend did not appear to notice her mental agony. She is a very nice and generous person. But she does not realize that everybody has some self-respect, regardless of her social status or lack of money. Nobody with the slightest sense of dignity wants to go on taking gifts from others, without feeling an obligation to do something for the giver. People belonging to the economically backward section also do not want to be perpetual takers; the feeling of being indebted to somebody in very oppressive and humiliating. Even the poorest of the poor wants to give something, however meagre that might be, to the kind donor, to show his gratitude. Some people bring home-grown vegetables or any other small things. Refusing to accept them merely demonstrates the inability to understand the sentiments of the poor people. They might bring some inexpensive cooked food from home and it is the duty of the donor to accept them with real pleasure to acknowledge the kind thought of the person concerned.