Originally written for Gulf News (Off the Cuff) http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/sharing-indeed-is-caring-lessons-for-a-lifetime-1.1080123
Growing up in the 1990’s, in the vibrant city of Karachi, I had a very rich childhood. My knowledge was diverse and there was a wealth of experiences to engage an inquiring little mind. We learnt to cooperate with family and extended family, we learnt to grow plants in the garden, we learnt that government offices were the best places to get duped and we learnt that there was really no alternative to hard work.
Karachi itself was proof that if you worked hard, you could make it big. Stories of bun-kebab vendors who ended up opening their own fast-food joints were examples the common Pakistani could relate to. We even learnt different languages and cultures from the hired help. But most importantly, my upbringing in the city was responsible for kindling the spirit of humanity within me.
Let me explain. A short trip to the grocery store in Karachi would typically include a driver, who saved every penny for his family back home in the village; a car that was either old, or if it was new, you feared it could get snatched at gun-point. On the way, you spotted rickshaw wallahs [rickshaw pullers], perhaps donkey carts and maybe even ostentatiously decorated buses and most certainly, beggars. Little boys and girls, no higher than my waist, clothed in tatters, would knock at your window and gesture to you that they haven’t eaten. You pulled down the window and found that the person in front had no shoes at all. You hand them a little bit of spare change and they pray for your well-being — they talk about everything from oodles of money, to passing exams to finding jobs and even marriage!
In case you were going to buy fruit, the experience would include haggling and an unbelievable amount of flies. When you finally returned home, you remembered that sharing was caring and that if you bought the season’s special fruit, the servants, the neighbours and maybe even relatives should be given some as a token of gratitude.
I remember those times fondly. There was no way one could live inside one’s own bubble of success, no matter how well one was doing. There were poor relatives to take care of, entire communities of disenfranchised people longing for food and clean water and one felt a pressing need to make a difference in the world by one’s mere existence. As children, we would feel compelled to give up our savings and allowances for children who couldn’t even think about going to school. In comparison, my children in Dubai live what can only be described as a life that is too perfect and too sheltered. It obviously is a fortunate life and while I am happy for the children, I know they are missing out on some things.
They have never seen suffering, they don’t know how it is when peoples’ huts get washed away by the monsoons, they have no idea about the lives of those thousands of children scattered on the roads of Pakistan, begging their way through the endless stream of cars. The most hardship they have come across in Dubai is that of the blue-collar construction workers, whom they are always willing to donate to. So when we went to Karachi this time, I took them to visit Sher Pao Basti — a slum area located not far from my Dad’s place.
Eager hands grabbed whatever treats we had to offer (food, old toys and clothes) and when my girls asked why one child wasn’t even wearing an underwear, I tried to impart an essential lesson that I hoped would shape their personalities. As we went back home from the grimy slum in our big car, I knew one thing. Whether or not my children had acquired some important lessons, I personally, had learnt to be thankful for my blessings again. The genuine joy and gratefulness in the eyes of a little girl as we handed her an old discarded toy was impossible to forget.
PS: Apologies for neglecting the blog. Will be posting new pictures soon, stay tuned! Will try and catch up on as many blogs as possible.
Thanks for reading!