Charity Begins at home; Does it Really?

Thoroughly impressed with the décor of my friend’s living room, I commented on its beauty while we were chatting, complimenting his wife for the awesome makeover the home got. He, modest and humourous as he is, said that he and his sons weren’t permitted entry. I was quick to add that she was smart alright or else it might have looked like the living room had been visited by a tornado!


Later on, as I got on with my work, these words came back to me. It is funny isn’t it, how our living room is seldom visited by the members of the family- it is by far the handsomest room and yet, the room is never frequented by the inmates of the house, unless the television is placed there. It used to be the trend before but is increasingly dying down and so there is an unwritten ‘out of bounds’ sign in our drawing room forbidding us to sit there. The adults might on rare occasion sit there feeling unnatural but for the kids it was definitely taboo! If kids tried to enter with puppy dog looks that melt fathers immediately, the mother is right behind looking no less than Hitler waiting to run them off. So does charity begin at home?

Charity begins at home is an adage that began with the premise that a child would learn charity at home when people learnt to be charitable with one another in this small basic unit of family that he/she sees. Nothing is more fulfilling than giving. In fact, there are many quotes which add "Charity begins at home but doesn't end there". This add on isn't required because that is exactly what the original proverb meant!
I remember on one occasion, long after both my brother and I had been married, we met along with our spouses and children at my parents’ home (how I love the family get together- something that is increasingly difficult due to different holidays) and started talking about our younger days and my brother, who specializes in teasing me, teams up with me to tease my mother, his strongest ally! And the topic- ‘you never gave us chicken legs when we had guests at home and we never got dessert till the next day’. My mother would roll up her eyes and try and change the topic after trying unsuccessfully to convince my brother, who has an elephantine memory, that she always gave us dessert. To be fair to her, she would always cook the yummiest of meals and desserts for us on a daily basis. However, during parties she always had this phobia that the food would finish before the guests had their fill making her over cater for everything and secondly, the ‘atithi devo bhava’ syndrome is prevalent so the chicken legs and good pieces had to be kept for the guests. The presentation of the dessert would get spoilt if she served us first and since we would be asleep much before the party would reach the dessert stage, we never got to eat it the same night. We always got enough and more the next day. So, does charity begin at home?


Next comes, the famous FHB! “Family Hold Back” is a phrase we didn’t know existed till our bluff was called out by a guest who caught my mother trying to stop my father with her eyes, from helping himself to a dish that she had briefed us earlier not to touch, since it, due to some error in calculation, was less in quantity. It had turned out rather well and so at my father completely forgot the briefing! After she tried to catch his attention in vain n kick him under the table, this guest (my father’s instructor who rose to be the Chief of Air Staff) told my mother to relax as there was enough and no need for FHB. We all looked at one another not knowing what it meant till he told us. There was laughter even as my father sheepishly realized his folly but it became a popular word in our home. And yet, it reminds us to ask ourselves, does charity begin at home?

Earlier on, we used steel plates and later melamine plates at home for our daily meals even though we had the best dinner sets. My parents had saved (and it was quite an effort, back then) to buy each item and so, those were reserved for guests and were washed by my mother lest the maid break them. So does…?

We ought to be kindest to those closest to us before we lavish niceties to the outer circle is the basis of the saying that ‘charity begins at home’. And yet, if a kid of fifth grade said his tables up to ten my father would lavish praise on the ‘young man’ and give him a pat on the back but if my brother knew them up to twenty in grade two, he could have said them more fluently, if he had learnt some more. If we dropped something in someone’s house we were chided immediately, if another kid did the same in our home, it was okay. You’d almost wonder if they were going to reward him as well. In other words, good manners that we are taught and which we teach in turn to our kids actually forbid the concept of ‘Charity begins at home’.

It is a fact proven beyond doubt that we take for granted the people closest and dearest to us and hence, Charity will never begin at home. So, how did this adage come about? Surely, we are not the only ones who take our dear ones for granted! It has been this way since the concept of family has come about. Well, the adage proves itself in a crisis situation. Whenever anyone in this unit is in trouble, everyone else in this unit leaves everything else and tries their level best to save the person in trouble. We stick together through thick and thin. That makes us a family and that proves that ‘Charity does indeed begin at home’-chicken legs or not, dessert or not, praises in public or not!! The rest is best attributed as classes in good manners, if you please!




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