WHEN word spread that Federal Territory Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor wanted to ban soup kitchens in KL city centre last week, my thoughts went back to an incident I witnessed as a child. An episode which defines the meaning of giving to me.
It took place some time in mid 1970s along a street in Johor Bahru. My mum wanted to run some errands and while walking from the bus stop to a row of shophouses, I spotted a few beggars along the way. A blind man in his scruffy shirt caught my attention the most. Perhaps because he was different.
I observed passers by dropping some coins in a can right in front of the blind beggar. After a few minutes, a guy stopped right him, put his hand in the can, scooped out some coins and walked away.
The episode shocked me. In fact I was so shocked that I didn’t tell my mum until a few days later. When I related it to her, we had a long chat about giving. She said if I found myself in a position where I can’t give, I should at least not take from those who are in need.
She also told me about the importance of giving unconditionally. How giving should be unconditional not as an avenue to call attention to myself. To my mum it is more meaningful to give to others what they want instead of what I do not want.
Coincidentally, just a few weeks ago while dropping off some pre-loved clothes and toys into our neighbourhood recycle bin, I spotted a notice right next to the chute door. It urged people not to dump broken and/or damaged items into the box.
When I saw the note I was baffled that people actually throw their waste into a recycle bin. I thought that kind of mentality on exists in the kampung which my mum grew up in, about 60 years ago.
I said this based on the experience my mum had as a child living in the same kampung as a miser who was well known for her concept of giving. Her idea of giving according to my mum was to handout damaged goods or food scraps.
My mum and her siblings nicknamed her Proud Lamah because she was boastful and condescending towards the less privileged, including my mother’s family.
Proud Lamah was rich, richer than anyone my mum knew in the area. She was very stingy too. What makes her different than any rich people there was her “act of giving.” When she gives she’d donate stuff that she and her family wanted to discard.
Mom said Proud Lamah would offer her less fortunate neighbours broken items like selipar jepun (flip flops) with broken straps or ikan bilis head and stomach.
My mother came from a huge family. When she was small, they had enough to just get by. Mum said once while walking pass Proud Lamah’s house with her sisters, the old lady called them over. She told them to collect the over-ripe and rotten rambutans from the ground, under the tree and take them home to their family. Mum and her sisters obliged.
As a self-proclaimed do gooder Proud Lamah didn’t like her deeds to go unnoticed either. So, while my mother and her sister were collecting the bruised and rotten rambutans, Proud Lamah went on explaining at the top of her voice no less, to her next door neighbour, about my mom’s family background and how sorry she felt for them.
Mother said she did not like Proud Lamah’s tone or the way she treated her and her sisters. Since that day, she would often make sure that the latter was not in sight, if she had to walk past her house.
I guess it must have made Proud Lamah felt good “helping” her less fortunate neighbours. The only explanation I could offer about what Proud Lamah did was, she obviously had operated from a different reality than some others back then.
I believe that before we give, we should think about how the receivers could put out contributions to good use. They may be less advantaged but our waste isn’t what they wish for.
If the homeless need food that’s what we should provide them with instead of giving conditions which make it harder for them or challenging their pride. For some who are down on their luck, all they need probably is a second chance without any judgement.
Most of all, when I give I must leave my judgement behind.> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.