Saturday, 7 June 2014

Dharmam is to give - at any cost

In these times of unemployment and drought, when people from a distant village come and request contributions for annadaanam, Chinapaapakka gives rice, and says to me, 'One has to give. That is dharmam. If we eat a time less, thats OK'. She also says, 'God will show the way to one meal, if not three'. 

“How will we manage sangati (rice) without going for labour ?” asked Chinapaapakka. Eashwaramma said, “God will give sangati – if not for three meals, then for one meal.” Lakshmamma, older and wiser, added, “God may say go to the forest and collect devadaru leaf and cook and eat it. But even that thought God has to put in our head.”

Every mendicant who comes, 'Bhavati bhiksham dehi', is fed. Respectfully.There 'Bhavati bhiksham dehi' echoes, and gives dignity to the singing mendicant and to the lady giving. 

The same dharmam tells them that 'addukkoni tinnedi' - for the mendicant 'to ask for rice, and eat', is OK. To give the poor who asks for food is dharmam.

In a perverted culture this is reversed. He who asks for food, bhiksha, is termed a begger and seen as just short of a criminal.

Chinapaapakka taught me that to give when asked is our dharmam, and whether the person misuses it of not is his karmam. 

Because though one man conned the village people saying his daughter had delivered under a tree, and took the rice, clothes and money they gave - they again gave as generously to the next person who came and asked.

 Eashwaramma was serving food to some very poor ladies who had come asking for food. There is no term 'begging'. 'Adukkone thinnedi', means to 'ask and eat', and is accepted normally. The hungry are fed. I asked her later which community they were from. She told me, "If someone comes and asks for food, we seat them serve them. We ask them which ooru (village) are you from. Why will we ask which kulam/ jati (caste) are you from ?" The person who comes and ask for food is seated and fed and spoken to respectfully. Even in this poorest of dalit households.

Sridhar Lakshmanan This is an experience you will get in every village. When I used to work in deep interiors there were no hotels but food was never a worry. All you have to do is ask or hint but that was rarely the case. They will ask and feed you with the food prepared for them. You will meet at least ten unknown people asking you to have food. In later days for ecologin when we scouted for remoter villages we used to make friends with unknown people in buses and they will offer us even overnight stay.all free you can't offer to pay that is an insult.
Unlike · Reply · 2 · 23 November 2015 at 20:32

Aparna Krishnan Sometimes our going to 'help villages' itself seems audacious. If we could relearn culture from them, all would be well with this earth. While if we go to 'school' them, or 'develop markets' for them (which is all we are capable of doing), we are probably doing more harm than we can realise.


Eashwaramma ran out of rice. A mendicant came, and Eashwaramma gave her a glass out of the last two glasses. The lady asked if she could give her some groundnuts, and Eashwaramma threw up her hands and asked her wherefrom she would get groundnuts. The lady pointed to the heap pf groundnut leaf stacked before her house. Eashwaramma explained to her that she had bought it for money (yet to be paid) for her cow as there was no grass in this drought. (It was while carrying this load, that she came down with a severe fever two months ago, the after effects of which are still with her.).

In times of drought and lack, ill feeling and jealousy starts showing  up faintly, and generosity decreases. I was talking to Eashwaramma about this and said that maybe the difficulties explained the change in people.

Eashwaramma said, “Manam okkari manchidi korukunte, devudu choopu challaga petthindhi, ledu kindhaki thokuthundhi.”, meaning "If we desire good for others, the God turns a kindly glance on us too. Otherwise he pushes us also down."

She was clear - 'No, at all times on one needs to stay generous. Then God will be with us.'. Village ethics has a clear unconfused stance. One can forgive and empathize with the wrongdoer, but the wrong does not need to be be explained as right.


“Raa, annam thinnu”, meaning ‘Come, eat food’, is a standard phrase, which one hears in any house if one enters when they are eating. Children, from a very young age have said to me, “Raa madam, annam thinnu”, if they were eating when I passed. The local culture is to invite anyone who comes by when one is eating to also sit and eat. The children all have that culture. The children started teaching my daughter to say that when she learned to speak. Now that is second nature to her too.

I was urban, and english educated ... and did not have that nuanced culture of a true Indian. I would immediately think that if i gave away the rice, I would again have to start a fire and cook a meal ... and of all the effort involved.

It took me a long time of being steeped in a rich and wise culture to acheive that simple and spontaneous hospitality.

 'To be absolutely simple in one's hospitality to one's enemy or to a stranger takes generations of training' - Tagore.



What all I have learnt from a village of goodness and civilized living, I never even realized. In a village, the stranger and the enemy who comes by has to be, and is, welcomed.

Manohara was our 'enemy'. He was our field neighbour, and there were eternal boundry disputes, his sending his cow in to graze on our lands to provoke ... He was also a crook. Things got bad between us.

When I passed him or his wife in the village I would turn away. When I passed his house, his wife would call me in with all warmth. For that moment I was a guest in her house. On a festival day she insisted that I take six vadais that she packaged into a crumpled newspaper and pushed into my hand.

Slowly I learnt the tenets of civilized behaviour - and slowly I learnt to genuinely call her in when she passed by our house in the village.




Annasamy anna told me that the village had decided that the annadaanam, which a friend had sent money for, would include our village and the village across the railway track. Now that would stretch out the money. The women would not get a blouse piece each now.
I wondered aloud at the decision.

He told me. 'Do you know what daanam is ? It is to give to all ... who ask and who do not ask ... without judgeing, or preferring.'



Eashwaramma, landless coolie labourer, saves and donates a sack of rice to the village temple. For annadaanam for all. It is her Dharmam.
The swami if the small temple accepts with humility.


And says to me, "Yes everyone has the duty to give what they can. The sun shines for all, the rain falls for all."
Everyone is a giver. And a receiver.
In the Bhagavad Gita class, the swamiji teaches us of the pancha mahayagnas, the duties of each householder to contribute to society.
In my village I see it lived.

Eashwaramma. Who with 2 sacks of rice at home, gives away one for annadaanam. For feeding others at the temple.
My friend, "Thats half her asset. Impossible for us to match her in that giving."
It is far bigger.
For us, the remaining 50% of our asset may still feed us two meals, and clothe us.
For the Eashwarammas, giving away half their asset means not having food reserves after a week. In times of drought.
Accepting hunger facing them and their children. As they follow their Dharmam.
That courage. That strength. That power. That compassion. That richness.
The only thing we need to seek, in this life, or over lifetimes ...

Sasi, Eashwaramma's grandson has given us all a hard time in the village, as we have dealt with his difficult growing years.
He was brought up by his grandmother, after loss of both parents. She used to earn going for agricultural labour. Life has not been easy on him or her.
And his rebellion against life took many forms.
And sometimes my exasperation has bordered on giving up. Though the village has uniformly been kind to the fatherless boy. Sympathising, helping ...
The other day as I was fretting about his new escapade, my daughter said.
That the other day when he came home late from school, his grandmother had kept a plate of food for him as she had gone out on labour. As he sat to eat, tired and hungry, a mendicant came at the door asking for food.
He just got up. And handed over the untouched plate to the man, asked him to eat. And then had a glass of water himself and went out.
... And it is these acts, unseen mostly, unremembered, unheralded, that mark a person.
... And before which greatness other smaller omissions and commissions cease to matter.

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