By KUSHAL BISWAS
WHEN it comes to giving and generosity, the first name that springs to my mind is that of Timothy babu, even though I haven’t seen him in decades and I don’t even know what his full name is.
When I think of him now, he reminds me of a Quentin Blake illustration crossed with a Pran Kumar Sharma cartoon: a tall, balding, cheerful person with a Chacha Chaudhary mustache and a booming laugh.
He would drop in on afternoons, wearing a khaki uniform and carrying huge bags bursting with enormous vegetables and fruits for us. My mother would welcome him, express astonishment at the amount of weight he had carried long distances for us, and on occasion would admonish him gently. Then she would make him tea and chat with him till my father came down to meet him.
Meanwhile, we siblings would marvel at his mustache, the loudness and frequency of his booming laugh, and anticipate what might be in the bag. After he left, we would be called by my father and asked to take this unlikely gift-fairy as a role model: someone who was not related to us, was not from our village, yet would bring us his expressions of love and generosity, to an extent we neither expected nor had done anything to deserve.
I later learnt that he was a tram driver (hence the khaki uniform). Over a number of years, he visited us in Ranaghat, Kalyani, Barrackpore and Dumdum: places where my father was posted at different times as parish priest. Timothy babu never actually attended church service; but my father used to explain that he was a devout parishioner who lived in Thakurnagar, at that time a good couple of hours by train from Kolkata.
I recall my father would sometimes go over to Thakurnagar to conduct prayers for the body of believers who, I learnt, lived there and were unable to attend Sunday worship in churches far away.
When my father returned, usually the day after, he would be full of praise for Timothy babu and his lavish hospitality. He was, my father was continuously to say, the perfect example of a man of limited means but unlimited generosity.
I remember marvelling at Timothy babu’s seemingly inexhaustible willingness to give, particularly during the only occasion that I visited his Thakurnagar home with my father. After a day-long experience of warm, almost embarrassing, pampering, I watched him stride off to his garden, sickle in hand, and return with coconuts, jackfruit, bananas and other homegrown produce for us. We could never have managed to carry all that with us, had he not sent one of his sons to accompany us on the train journey home.
After my father retired as parish priest, entrusted his pastoral duties to the younger priest who succeeded him, and came to stay in Kolkata with my sister and, in course of time, with me, we lost touch with Timothy babu; but we frequently remembered his capacity and readiness to share: something I have rarely witnessed since.
Sometime in between, the world picked up a phrase that Mother Teresa popularised: “Give until it hurts.” Though it was originally mentioned in a different context, my father would invariably link the phrase with charitable giving, and declare that if any single individual had obeyed this directive, it was Timothy babu.
When I think about it today, I am not sure if I agree, though I find it remarkable that this particular person should have the same name as the Biblical book from which comes one of the most famous Christian exhortations to give (1 Timothy 6.18). While Timothy babu remains one of the most exceptional givers I have personally known, none of my memories of his giving seems to suggest any degree of discomfort or hurt. On the contrary, I can recall the delight on his face as he watched my mother opening the bags he had brought, and the chuckles with which he would invariably respond to her requests not to physically burden himself on future visits.
I sometimes wonder if I will ever be able to give till it hurts, and am a little embarrassed to admit that I have never even come close to doing so. However, for imperfect and occasional givers such as I, Timothy babu can be seen as an exemplar of an easier-to-follow principle: it doesn’t hurt to give.
Kushal Biswas, an Associate Professor of English in a Kolkata college, wishes he were associated professionally with music and food. He has vicariously participated in these spheres by writing about music and food. The last time he wrote a column on music, it was for a newspaper that subsequently laid off a substantial chunk of its workforce, though there need not necessarily be any connection between the events. He has never given his opinions on giving in print before.