Swami Gulagulaananda said:“We all owe a debt to society… You are significantly more privileged than you think”
The soft rays of the morning sun slipped through the blinds and woke up Simi. As she opened her well rested eyes, a smile formed on her face as she looked at the calendar on the wall. Just one more day to go. She looked at the neat array of stuffed dolls adorning a specially created shelf. But this birthday was special and she knew exactly what she wanted. "Maaaa!! Coffee!!" she yelled.
A few moments later, her parents walked into her room, beaming at their daughter. Offering her the cup, her mom asked her, "Just one more day for your birthday, Simi beta. What do you want for your present?" This was the moment that she was waiting for. She held the cup between her palms and interwoven fingers and looked at the brown liquid. Then, gushing a little, she said "Ma, Pa, I want the new iPhone X". At this, her mom turned to look at her dad. Her dad obviously hadn't expected such an expensive request. "iPhone? Beta, isn't that very expensive? Ummm ask for something else", said her dad as he fumbled for words. He didn't want to disappoint his angel daughter.
"No. For this birthday, I want an iPhone." replied Simi. "It's very expensive Simi. Besides, what does it do that your phone doesn't do?" reasoned her mom. "All my friends have one. I also want one" said Simi. "I'll not be able to afford an iPhone Simi, I'm sorry." said her dad as he walked away. A visibly upset Simi turned her head away as her mom tried to mollify her.
With a start, she jumped out of her bed and said, "I'm going for a drive." and ran down the stairs, ignoring her mother's pleas to not go out on an empty stomach.
Having driven for about 30 minutes, Simi felt her throat feeling dry. Her tongue seemed to get heavy. She picked her bottle to drink but found that it contained very little water. She had forgotten to refill it. She looked around and found herself near a slum. She got out of her car and walked up to a small house. She saw an elderly lady sitting outside, chopping some vegetables. "Aunty, may I've some water?" asked Simi, indicating her bottle. The elderly lady looked up and smiled at her. "Of course, of course, come in, little girl" she said, accepting the bottle. The elderly lady walked into the tiny house followed by Simi who had to bend her head to pass through the low door.
She was surprised by what she saw inside. The house was very plain and had only one room. The flooring was of red oxide. One of the walls had some kind of a battered shelf with a few utensils arranged on it. She saw a trunk with a few clothes in one corner, a small bed with a pillow and a thin blanket along another wall. The lady carefully poured water into the bottle from an earthen pot. Simi continued to observe the tiny house. She saw a tattered wall hanging. It was a makeshift board for children. It said "A for Apple, B for Ball, C for Cat".
Simi was surprised at this. "Aunty, what is this?" she asked. "Ah, I teach some of the local children here. I've studied till seventh and I want these children to be able to read. I hope that education will bring them out of this abject poverty" she said as she returned Simi's bottle. "Why don't you sit for some time? I'll make some tea for you", she said. Simi was very curious about this lady and the slum. She spent half hour drinking tea and listening to the wonderful stories, how excited the children around the locality are to learn new things, how people help one another, how people run up to the nearest STD booth when they get a call from their village, how they fear that the government will tear away their hutments and render them homeless. Simi listened with rapt attention. These people went through a lot. "Aunty, give me the phone number of that booth", said Simi as she left bidding goodbye to the lady.
The next morning, Simi was awakened by her parents. "Happy Birthday, Simi beta!". Simi woke up with a wide smile saying "Thank you" in a sing-song manner. "Beta, I thought a lot, and I've decided to get you that iPhone", said her dad. Simi looked at her dad and smiled with a twinkle in her eye. "I'm coming to the market with you".
Two hours later, a kid ran up to the elderly lady's house. "Aunty, aunty, you've a phone call". The elderly lady wondered who had called her. She slowly walked towards the telephone booth down the street. Picking up the phone, she said, “Hello? Who’s speaking?”
“Hi aunty! This is Simi, from yesterday! Guess what, aunty? I got a present from my parents and I am calling you from my new iPhone! Isn’t that cool?”
How should the story have ended?
My original intent was to give it a funny ending where Simi says that she called up the elderly lady to say “Guess what? I am calling you from my new iPhone! Isn’t that cool?”
Or perhaps, Simi decides to donate a board, books and other materials to the elderly lady to educate the children. Or go a step further to even teach the children herself… (some forward)
Each of us is a Simi and we all have a choice… I read somewhere that we all owe a debt to society and that we should do our part to give back to the society in some way.
I don’t know if charity is the right solution - Perhaps there is a better way. If anyone has any good ideas, please let me know