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The Pain of Not Giving
by Shernaz Wadia

Long back I had written here about The Joy of Giving. Today we are going to read a short account about the pain of not giving. Those who find joy in giving also feel profoundly the pain of not giving.

The incident happened more than five decades ago. It was related in a poem by Dr. Kumarendra Mallick. With his permission I am narrating it here.

Doctor was a school going boy then, with a brother two years his senior. Once they were on their way to the river for a ritual dip before going to school. It was a delightful morning, cool and pleasant. The cold north winds heralding winter were yet to arrive. Chirpily, whistling back and forth with birds, they hopped merrily through a field lush with cauliflowers, green pea pods and ladyfingers. There was also a guava tree that tantalizingly dangled sweet, fleshy fruit. Loads of it. Tempting, irresistibly tempting. It all belonged to a neighbor whom they lovingly addressed as Uncle. He was a kind and generous man, very fond of these two brothers. Even now he was there, perched on a high branch, busily plucking the delicious fruits.

The elder brother nonchalantly picked up one fat guava from a basket lying on the ground. His mouth drooled as he cleaned it with his towel. He couldn’t wait to get home and wash it before sinking his teeth into its enticing flesh. Anticipating its heavenly taste, he was about to take a bite, when the guava was rudely snatched from his hand.

“Leave these alone. Be off,” said a disgruntled old voice. The boys were startled and deeply hurt as they looked into the sulky eyes of Uncle’s mother. She was a grumpy old woman, the grid of her life, cutting deep furrows on her sallow skin. From her their eyes traveled to Uncle’s upset face. Before he could climb down from the tree and say anything to them the two boys walked away, their innocent eyes brimming with unshed tears. The day was still beautiful, but for them it had been spoilt.

They passed through the field again that day on their way home from school. They noticed that Uncle S. was still there. Hurt as they were, they began to move towards the side further from him but he shouted out their names and beckoned them. Reluctantly they went towards him.

“Look, I have been waiting eagerly all day for you to return,” he said beaming, as he wiped his face with a cloth. “Look,” he said again as he pointed to a basket of guavas, with his slightly calloused, large hands. “My son, these are all for you. Take them home and enjoy them with your family and friends. And do forgive my poor old mother for what happened earlier today.”

Instead of the one guava he was denied in the morning, the little boy was offered the day’s plucking – fifty-five guavas in all!! They couldn’t believe it! What a windfall it was! Yet, with quiet dignity, lofty for his age, the small boy refused the gift with a smile. “Thank you so much for your kindness, Uncle. I cannot accept these today. Some other day, as I am passing by here I will have one willingly.”

Tears streamed down Uncle’s face as his repeated pleas were firmly turned down. All morning he had visualized them jumping with joy when he gave them his generous gift. Now he couldn’t believe that it was being refused. In awe he hugged the little boy so full of self-respect. He was extremely pained at having been denied the joy of giving, so pained, that this kind man couldn’t sleep for many, many nights after the incident. But he had only admiration and great regard for this kid who stood miles high in stature, self-esteem and uprightness.

A year went by and another crop of ripe guavas was ready to be plucked. But time had stopped for that little boy. Cruel destiny had snatched the sober, handsome lad away from his loved ones. He no longer passed through that field. Uncle was so devastated that he could never again climb that tree or pluck its fruit. He always left it, to the delight of the village boys, to scramble up and enjoy the luscious guavas. Nor could he ever again eat the fruit that had been so impolitely denied to a tiny boy.

The anguish of not having been able to share stayed with him all his life and so he always snatched every opportunity to give.

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