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The first two months of the year are done and dusted and here we are in the month of March. Yes, the very month that brings with it a lot of special things – it brings the season of Spring to town, it brings us celebrations of womanhood, it brings us the extravagance of colours that takes family bonding to a whole new level, it brings us the anxiety of exams; and the most special for me, it brings my little one’s birthday!
Bang in the middle of the exams, right on the day when there will either be Science or a Maths exam, is when my little one’s birthday usually happens to be! And while all my family “tch tch”es at this – ‘bechara, birthday ke din exam likhega!’ – neither my little one nor I are ever too concerned about it (so far). In fact, we take it in our stride; and this year decided to up the ante by having a birthday party in the evening right on the day of the exam itself (thankfully it was a Friday!).
Although I was initially skeptical about people turning up for the party in the middle of the exam schedule; I was assured by most of my friends and all of my little one’s friends that they were looking forward to the welcome break!
Running short of time, we held the bash at the local McDonald’s; and the party was a huge success! And after three whole hours of games and dances and races and ice-creams and all sorts of fun; we headed home, tired, exhilarated and looking forward to opening our little one’s birthday gifts.
Now birthday gifts are special, I know; and they are probably the most needed therapy when it comes to winding down after a hard day of organizing and conducting a raucous party; and I was looking forward to opening each and every one of those gifts as much as my little one. But my child just turned a "responsible age" this year; and before we opened the gifts, I was keen to have a little chat with him about something really important.
A few days back, I had had a conversation with a friend of mine; and something she does regularly for orphans in the area had spurred me into action. I felt, it was time for my little one to now learn about his social responsibilities. Or in the very least, we could at least start a conversation around it.
“Come on Mum, lets open the gifts!” he came bouncing as soon as we had all settled down a bit.
“Yes, in a minute. But come here before that,” I said to him and planted a kiss on his forehead as he sat near me.
“Are you happy?” I asked him.
“Yes!” he grinned.
“Enjoyed the party?”
“Yes, Mum; lets open the gifts now!” he was getting impatient.
No time better than this, I decided; and said “This year, I want you to donate a few of your toys to the orphanage in our area.”
“But we already made a donation at the blind children’s school Mum,” he was quick to point out.
It is a birthday ritual in our home. Even before we have our birthday party, we visit the temple and a nearby charitable school for blind children in the area. It is only after we visit the children and make a donation (in cash and kind) at the school that we go ahead with our celebratory lunch or any party that we plan. We have been taking our little one to this school ever since he was a baby; and now, even he knows the routine and knows that we make regular contributions to the school every year.
“Yes, we made a donation; but that’s what Pa and Mum do every year. What about your contribution?” I asked him.
“You guys already give, why should I contribute too?” he demanded to know.
“Because you are now growing up,” I said; “and it is time you too, took up your share of contributing to the betterment of those less fortunate than you.”
“But why should I give my toys? Can’t you give money at the orphanage too, just like you give at the blind children’s school?” he asked.
He is only seven after all, I told myself. It is going to be difficult for him to let go of something as special as toys at this age. But I also knew, that this is the right time to teach him this and let him in on some of the sad realities of life that we parents generally try to shield our children from.
I explained to him that the children in the orphanage I was talking about had no family to take care of them. No parents, no relatives; they probably even didn’t know when their birthday was, let alone someone organising a party for them!
“Now imagine,” I said, “who will buy them toys? What will they play with? You are blessed to be born in a home where you have so many toys, don’t you think you should share your toys with them?” As I asked the questions, I could see empathy slowly dawning on my little one’s face.
“But why not give them my old toys then?” he asked, still unwilling to give away his newly acquired and as yet unopened toys. I felt a tug at my heart. This was going to be the most difficult part for him. But we had to do this.
“When you offer flowers at a temple, do you give away flowers that have been lying in your home or you offer fresh flowers?” I asked him.
“Fresh ones,” he said.
“When I make and offering for the Pooja at home, do I cook a fresh meal or offer leftovers?”
“When your friends gave you gifts today, did they get you their old, used toys; or did they get you brand new, unopened ones?”
“Of course new ones! They were coming for the party Mum,” he said.
“And you think it is okay to give the children in the orphanage old, used toys because there is no one who will have a party for them? You think it is alright because anyway they do not have parents who will ask you why you got them old things?”
He stared up at me. “Take your time. Think about it. I will be waiting outside for you.” I said; and left him.
He sat there in his room for some time, thinking about what I had just said. And then, a good twenty minutes later, came to me, hugged me and asked “is it okay if I at least open my gift wrappings and choose which toys I want to give away?”
“Of course!” I smiled at him and hugged him tight.
Yet another year, yet another birthday; and my little one is growing up slowly, I realised; and nothing could have made me happier.
As a mother, I know it is important to raise a happy child. But as someone living in a world that sees such extreme hatred at times, I also know that more important than raising a happy child, is raising a child who knows and understands the importance of spreading the happiness to the world around him. And this is my small step towards that.