This is a simple story from my mother, who lives in Kolkata, India. It illustrates a basic point of the Art of Giving – when we give to others, that generosity of spirit returns to us manifold.
Shobha is my mother’s maid. She and her husband, Borun, live in a nearby poor neighborhood. They live a very modest life in a one-bedroom home with a thatched roof. They struggle to survive; they brought up their kids with barely enough to eat.
Borun makes a living by selling flowers for worship and delivering them to homes early in the morning. His faith defines his life. Every day he travels to the wholesale flower market on the banks of the Hugly River, to buy the flowers. Last winter in Kolkata was very cold and many poor and old people were dying from exposure. One such winter morning, Borun was walking home from the flower market over the Howrah Bridge, where there were many homeless people sitting. As he walked by, he heard a voice that drew his attention. A frail old lady was asking him for help.
“I have seen you walk by every day. I am very cold. When you come back tomorrow, can please bring me a shawl from your home?”
Addressing her as mother, he said, “Maa, this is the only shawl I have. I do not have any other shawls at home.” Borun paused for a moment, took off his shawl and gave it to her. When he arrived home, he did not want to get in trouble with his wife for having given away his only shawl in the middle of winter. More importantly, the shawl had been a gift from my mother. He lied to his wife and said that he had lost it.
Shobha was very upset. She told my mother that he had lost the shawl. My mother was more concerned about his health than the shawl, because he is so old.
Borun told my mother what had really happened to the shawl. Even though she had bought the shawl from the other end of the city, which was a trek for her, my mother was so moved by his generosity that she decided to make the trek again to buy him another one.
The next morning he came home with the flowers wearing a shawl! My mother was surprised to see a shawl on him and inquired about it. He said that a few months back he had delivered flowers to a lady for her daughter’s wedding, but she could not pay him right away. That morning, she had appeared and said that she still didn’t have the money but she could give him a shawl since he had been so kind to her.
Hearing this story shifted something within me. I realized that giving is an attitude – a state of mind born from the space of contentment. It is not a simple equation of needs versus haves. When you give, the universe also conspires to take care of you many times over.