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Sex, Death And Charity

By SARA ADHIKARI

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STRUNG together, these three words seem like an odd combination or, at best, click bait. But in my experience, all of them are linked by the squirm factor that private conversations on the subjects inevitably evoke.

Take my dearly departed dad, for instance, or Baba as I called him. As a teenager growing up in Kolkata under his nose and jurisdiction, there was one house rule that we often argued about – the time of day by which I must return home (and remain there). These discussions were usually held at the dining table over a meal – and yes, I had a boyfriend at the time, Baba’s greatest concern.

One Sunday lunch he launched into yet another one of his illogical discourses on the reasons behind imposing a curfew or trying to. Fed up with my counterpoints against his attempt to curtail my liberties, he finally said: “Anyway, I just want you to be home by sundown, every day.”

What about the fact that in winter the sun sets by 4.30pm instead of around 7pm in the summer? Or that my amateur theatre rehearsals were mostly held in the evenings? None of this held much weight with my father.

It was when I deliberately said: “But Baba, what can I do after sundown that I can’t do before?” that I hit the spot. He squirmed: OMG was his daughter indirectly referring to sex?

Death is another show stopper, literally. It makes people uncomfortable, especially when they feel obliged or called upon to comfort the bereaved.

I was widowed 14 years ago – and it was in the immediate aftermath of losing Peter that this truth struck me. When I returned to work a month after, it was difficult – for me, yes, but more so for my colleagues: there was this elephant in the room they had to deal with and no office manual tells you how.

The women were mainly OK, most came up to me, said how sorry they were and gave me a hug. But the majority of the men avoided eye contact or chatted as though nothing had happened. And when one bravely asked how I was and I replied ‘not great’, he… squirmed. His polite, if perfunctory, query had elicited an honest response – but not what he was prepared for. Now, what should he say? What if I burst into tears?

Since then I have learned to live with this reality. Every so often in social situations, people I have newly met ask what my husband does and I tell them he keeps an eye on us from ‘up there’. Squirm.

The conversation comes to an awkward halt, till I put them at ease – it’s OK, death happens, it is a part of life. I try not to give them grief, as it were.

This same unease exists in the world of charity too – as I have learned since founding Small Change five years ago. We are trying to raise awareness about non-profits and the work they do to help the disadvantaged. And why, in India particularly, all of us riding on the economic growth wave need to haul those drowning in the poverty of means to safety. Surely this is a no-brainer.

Yet, unless charitable giving happens of the donor’s own volition, there is a peculiar, silent, avoidable tension between the one who asks and the one who gives.

One NGO told us: “To call someone and request for funds feels like begging.” Another said: “I find it awkward because once I’ve asked friends and they haven’t donated, I feel they don’t want to give so I can’t ask again, and they simply avoid the subject…or me!”

It really is absurd that the subject of giving should cause such disquiet – between friends, relatives, and strangers. One dear friend who ‘admires’ what I do but has never donated on Small Change or browsed the site, asked me: “The thing is, tell me how do I know the money is going to the right place?” I squirm. Have we so failed to build trust?

Another espouses our cause of growing the culture of giving on social media (and urges her followers to contribute to an ongoing fundraiser) but does little to grow it herself. And face-to-face, between us, the subject remains in our hearts and minds…never one up for discussion.

So there you have it: the most talked of subjects, not talked about.


 Sara Adhikari has worked as a journalist for almost 30 years with publications such as The Sun, The Khaleej Times and The Sunday Times Of India. Now as the founder of Small Change, she works 24/7 as their chief cook and bottle washer.

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4 thoughts on “Sex, Death And Charity

  1. Beautifully penned! The parallels drawn are so accurate!

    This is very relevant to our constant need for volunteers and our challenges in them “giving us their time” for our cause!

    It’s really the “giving” that needs introspection, we’re always judging and evaluating whether the cause is worth it! If one wants to give… Just give and forget about the rest of the balance sheet….

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