For Ratna Vira, the research for her recently-launched book, Why People Give: Interpreting Altruism, at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre, began with a bit of amusement. The writer and painter, who co-authored the book with daughter Suhasini, found out that while helping others makes you feel fulfilled, only a handful of people do it. “People nowadays, even world leaders, are simply looking at their own agendas to accomplish, without paying attention to others’ needs,” says Ratna.
Suhasini, a Political Science and Economics student, echoes a similar viewpoint. “Interesting data comes from the Gallup World Poll of 2010 that included 23,000 people from 142 countries. When asked about their overall well-being, and whether they had recently donated, in 127 of these countries, there emerged positive trends between altruism and well-being. It is surprising because many in our society don’t give back.”
A chance meeting with Prema Sagar, trustee of Genesis Foundation NGO, acted as a catalyst to writing this book. Ratna says Sagar showed her the pictures of terminally-ill children suffering from cancer. “Yet, they looked happy in the images, as if sunshine reflecting through their eyes.
They seemed to have found the secret of living. I then began to question life, realising people who give are happier compared to the receivers.
The book’s 15 chapters are interspersed with commentary on altruistic aspects in our society, and stories of children who received timely treatment. The book also features attempts by individuals who have brought significant changes in society.
In her earlier books, Ratna explored many social themes. Her first book, Daughter by Court Order, is about patriarchy, feudalism and rights of women.
Her second book, It’s Not About You, is about challenges faced by a single mother.
In a conversation with The Morning Standard, Ratna says that she met a few challenges in her craft. “Some very influential people approached me to stop writing on such aspects as ‘they were not comfortable with it.’”
The author, who has completed courses in positive psychology, was influenced by her grandfather who taught students from the poor background. “My grandfather HD Shourie, started Common Cause, in 1980, a New Delhi based NGO, from one end of the dining table where many children came to study, while I completed my homework at the other end.
My attempt is to share the idea that, instead of waiting for corporates or governmental organisations. If a certain individual helps another that would just make India a much better place.”