Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Charity show

Let’s start from the car. A beggar comes in. A theater is in progress, except that the actors here are amputated or terminally ill. A knock on my car’s window, “Give, in the name of God”. The feeble beggar stares at me and then at his own troubled body. It is my father’s money, can I give it to her, give her a chance to smile?

beggarrewind Fast rewind. 1994, sixteen years back. I used to get two rupees as pocket money. I kept a rupee to myself and gave off the other to any beggar I met. I believed that I was helping the poor out. But this one rupee, daily stunt was between me and the beggar. Ask my friends, my family members about it, they wouldn’t be knowing. It was never a charity show. At times, I was so moved, that I would give off all two rupees. Believe me, the fun just doubled. I felt so happy.

Ever since completing my high school, my pocket money ended. Dad says, “You may take whatever amount of money you need, and yes, spend the money judiciously”. Hence, the concept: my father’s money. The money which I can spend judiciously.

Effectively, I don’t have my own money today. So the kid begging on my car’s window gets a sorry, always.

It is a paradoxical situation. I feel bad that I can’t help the needy anymore, but I (would) feel guilty of doing a ‘charity show’, if I give off money  to the needy. I am damned, both ways.

The beggar leaves, with a sour look on its face. I stare ahead. There is this poster of a bearded guy, in bold captions, it reads: Mr. Ramzan Ramzan ChhipaChhipa. His organization runs ambulances throughout Karachi, the way Edhi ambulances circulate the whole of Pakistan. Indeed, to save lives is a noble act.

However, what do you make of this larger than life wall poster of yourself, and a free ambulance service. It is charity, they say, but to me , it looks like cheap fame as well.

A logo would have done the trick, but no, this world is not in black and white, there are so many shades in between. Hence there is this great ‘free service’, plus self indulgence and cheap fame.

If it is in the name of charity, then let my name not be known. Let not the whole world be told that I, an individual, have done a favor to society by doing an act of kindness. Or even better, in the words of Muhammad (PBUH): "Let not the other hand know that you have given charity.”

USAIDEdhi. Chhipa. Gates foundation. USAID. Aren’t all these philanthropic organizations an instrument to gain popularity and fame. Can’t they do their nice work without the self-elating drumbeating.

Then, there is this counterargument: giving philanthropy the celebrity status would keep charity in vogue. The common man would strive to emulate the ‘kind’ Edhi, the Chhipa, the Bill Gates. The world needs role models. The world needs new Mother Teresas.

My argument is that this system of charity with social recognition is flawed. Bill Gates may be helping Africa rid Malaria, but his kind act is also giving his company a positive image, a much needed edge it wants ahead of Google, Apple, et cetera.

Check out their website. Its good.

Edhi Edhi, the Pakistani icon, lives in a plush house in Clifton (Karachi). He is a great man. That is what we have seen. We have been shown his niceness over and over again, on tv shows, at Radios, and in newspapers.

About edhi at

And then there is Chhipa as well. “What a nice guy he is”, we all say.

I say top this rant. If you want to help the poor, do so quietly. What’s with his loud self-promotion. Can’t the Bill Gates foundation  be named ‘the End-Malaria foundation’, or some other better, non-individualistic name? Can’t Edhi rename his ambulance service to some non-edhi name? Can’t Ramzan Chippa work without his portrait picture as his organizations brand logo?

Psst . . can we be nice without telling anyone? Can’t we hide behind our niceness?

Charity must go on, but this charity show must end.

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