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A season for kindness

The tenets of Gandhian school of thought has many lovers and converts among the firagees, writes Meeta Chaitanya.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2006 12:18 IST

It isn't difficult to understand why movies like Lage Raho Munnabhai reverberate sonorously with a huge plethora of audiences. Irrespective of language, context and notion, this is one of those concepts that have gradually amassed a big fan club that extends beyond the Indian Diaspora.

That Munnabhai's latest skirmish with Mahatma Gandhi has become enormously popular with Indians here is no surprise considering its wide appeal and quickly recognisable portrayals of immensely lovable characters and familiar contemporary askew situations.

That Gandhigiri would become a silent but steady buzzword for people whose knowledge of Mahatma Gandhi is only cursory, if deferential, is surprising and endearing.

Love, kindness, non-violence, forgiveness, and patience — the cornerstones of the Gandhian school of thought if one has to put it simply, has many lovers and converts among the firagees. So does this new age 'Gandhigiri'.

Equally there are critics in the land without borders (Indians, Indian immigrants and Indians at heart) who have forever seen it as a prostrate, impotent, lackadaisical and uninspiring way of winning one's wars — whatever they may be.

As if in continuum of this depiction, we Indians and others here are becoming gradually well-acquainted with America's Secret Santa, a man who has risen to fame by living a life of secrecy for 26 years. Roaming nameless streets and giving out charity to the needy many, Larry Stewart has reportedly anonymously given out about $1.3 million over the years.

His is a story that comes along rarely; and is therefore of interest to people everywhere. Stewart revealed his identity only recently and that too because emaciated with chemotherapy, wanting for money for his own continued treatment and wanting to pass on the belief in 'random kindness' to others who wish but haven't dared. He started with $5 bills. He hasn't stopped since. Known as Secret Santa all along, he is a 58-year-old businessman who lives in a suburb of Kansas City.

Stewart started giving out money in 1979 when he handed a $20 bill to a woman who thanked him so profusely that it prodded him on to more giving, more grace. He has since incessantly given gifts of cash, every Christmas believing that money is something folks don't have to "beg for, get in line for or apply for" (quite the catchphrase for his followers now).

Despite undergoing many vicissitudes, financial and personal, he never revealed his identity, until now. Rumour has it that reporters who were in the know aligned with his vow of secrecy. Today, possibly facing death, he wants to spread his message.

His efforts are not in vain. Stewart's act of random kindness has inspired quite a few people and has been lauded by all. Reportedly he has received many letters from as far away as Texas from people who have been touched by his generosity of spirit and soul. This is more momentous now, when Christmas is around the corner.

Just as Gandhigiri has its critics, so does random kindness. Encouraging beggary by giving out cash is not a credo that has many takers even in India. Both concepts can and have been criticised as simplistic and bland and for their (overt) inability to transform a societal stasis in the long haul. However, a minority opinion such as this pales in comparison with the manner in which these concepts have been embraced for their innate, unconditional goodness. Goodness that is plain and simple.

Just as Rajkumar Hirani's interpretation of the Gandhian philosophy has won over many staunch critics — which is a big testimonial to an alternatively enervated and deified philosophy, Larry Stewart's act of giving has redefined charity from a dandified principle to its original avatar of giving unquestioningly. In the season of benevolence, generosity and good cheer this is a merry conglomerate.

First Published: Dec 05, 2006 01:59 IST