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Week of giving goes viral

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

— Margaret Mead

In an ideal world, the practice of sharing would be an everyday ethic but trust a marketing man called Venkat Krishnan from Mumbai to transform this into an institutionalised Joy of Giving Week (JOGW) each October, getting celebs to share resources and their pictures into the papers, then attracting people like you and me to be interested in doing the same.

The result is that charity is uncontrollably viralling. For something that was conceived only as recently as 2009, the Joy of Giving Week has engaged millions of responses from 70 Indian cities in its existence.

Just last year, millions of volunteering hours were registered by 15 lakh individuals across some 800 projects. For instance, someone baking a cake for a surprised neighbour, another walking a friend’s dog, someone donating clothes to an orphanage, another feeding the poor or someone handholding geriatrics to a paid film show. Etcetera.

Besides, the kind of things people are doing for others has widened. The act of sharing has extended from its core anonymous intent into a creative form; it is no longer enough for people to be doing something good but also to be engaged in something that most people would otherwise have overlooked.

It is no longer necessary to do the predictably usual but to extend one’s competence (as opposed to cheque writing) into a giving form.

And so it is turning out: a cruise company that would otherwise have never extended beyond getting affluent group bookings, is now saying wait a minute, can we consider the possibility of taking 100 underprivileged children on a complimentary cruise down the Hooghly.

An autorickshaw driver, who would have just said that I am not a person of means, now says I will transport the needy during this week — free.

Someone who would otherwise have only run a management institute is asking whether she can make the place more inclusive, so she conducts an auction across students of leading management institutes to shadow a CEO like Narayana Murthy for a day, the proceeds from the auction being sent to charity.

A corporate foyer would have been a boringly impersonal place but an increasing number of companies are choosing to map requirements of underprivileged neighbourhoods there, write a number of their real wants on paper chits hung from the branches of a ‘wish tree’ — ‘Pooja, 5, needs school bag worth Rs 150’ — which visitors and employees can then select and act upon.

You might assume that people emerge from their inertia only in the first October week; interestingly, a number in Calcutta have already embarked on their ‘nets’ leading to the big week.

Come October 2 and Hidco intends to waive the Eco Park entry fee for groups of children brought by NGOs. Adventure Zone, the Calcutta-based adventure sports company, will introduce underprivileged children to kayaking, zorbing, archery and other fun activities free of cost; South Point and St. James’ School are getting students to donate new Puja clothes for disadvantaged peers; Oxford Bookstore will launch a retail training programme for 15-18 year-olds in NGO care; Eye Pavilion has offered to check the eyesight of kids in NGO care in addition to conducting a full-fledged cataract operation camp for no remuneration; a trainer intends to conduct a free mass yoga class for children groups; Calcutta-based Vivada will take 100 children on a river cruise.

The potential counter-argument is that all these initiatives cost big money, so where is the room for the common person to contribute?

So here are some of my suggestions on how the Joy of Giving Week can be transformed into a relatively cashless event to extend untold joy to people: smile at a neighbour when you meet her in the elevator; engage in a random act of kindness where you pay for the Metro ticket of the next person in queue and disappear before she can say thank you; give an old person waiting for a bus a lift in your car; put a duck to float in the neighbourhood pond; pool surplus medicines for the benefit of a free medical dispensary; group peer musicians to tutor disadvantaged children; organise a surprise birthday celebration for someone who least expects it.

Write credible ‘You are great’ notes for people with reasons on why you respect them. Start a no-frills website that aggregates ideas on how to celebrate JOGW and eventually becomes a ‘clearing house’. Compliment the man who delivers the newspaper each morning for his sense of timeliness. Start a ‘praise notice board’ in the building where you live. Take a magician for a brief show in the children’s ward of a hospital. Place a bird box on a tree. Volunteer to do a quiz in a rural school. Tell the cook ‘khana bahut achha bana hai’ and make her day. Simply listen.

Slip paper hearts that say “It’s Random Acts of Kindness Week! Have a great day!” under the windshield wipers of parked cars. Call or visit a homebound person. Hand out balloons to passersby.

Hug a friend. Pat someone on the back. Donate blood. Pick trash.

And then if the ultimate viralling happens and this becomes a life-long ‘disease’, then dare Venkat Krishnan to float a Joy of Giving Lifetime concept for the world at large…