Nine-year-old Venkat blinked in amazement at the bank statement his father showed him. "See Venkat? This is how much money we have in your account", Nanna said. Venkat whooped in excitement and almost did a cartwheel. He stopped himself just in time and settled for a few big jumps around the room. Venkat couldn't believe how much he'd saved over the last five years. All the little gifts he'd received had really added up!
"Wow, Nanna! I'm rich!" Venkat exclaimed in joy.
Nanna laughed said, "Yes, you're quite rich for a nine-year-old. You're quite lucky to have so many people who give you presents. You also made some wise choices, and they have added up. You chose a library membership instead of buying expensive new books. You also chose to play with the MegaTops you got for your birthday instead of buying new GigaTops. So Amma and I put the money we saved into your account as a reward for being responsible".
"Thank you, Nanna!" Venkat said and hugged his father. He felt very proud to be called responsible.
"Anna is rich! Yay!" said Pragya. She tugged at her mother's kurta. "Am I rich too, Amma?" she asked. Pragya had turned four a few months ago, and her parents had opened a bank account for her too.
"Not yet, my little unicorn. You need to be careful and responsible like your brother for the next five years", Amma replied with a smile. Pragya nodded solemnly.
"What should I do with my money, Nanna?" Venkat asked.
His father smiled and replied, "There are many options, Venkat. We don't need to decide right away. The money is quite safe in the bank, you know!"
Venkat understood, but he was still very excited. So he asked his father, "Can I buy just one new book, Nanna? To celebrate being good?" His father agreed.
When Venkat woke up the next morning, he'd forgotten all about the money in the bank. He was far more excited about the books he and Nanna had ordered online. They had chosen two books for him and one for Pragya.
After homework that evening, he accompanied Taatha for a walk around the building. Taatha used his walking stick for support, but Venkat loved holding his grandfather's hand. Venkat looked forward to talking about little things while they walked. This evening, he noticed that Taatha's walking stick had a large piece of tape stuck around the middle.
"What happened to your stick, Taatha?" Venkat asked with concern.
"Oh, nothing much. It was stuck under the bed this morning, and I cracked it when pulling it out," Taatha replied.
"Why don't you buy a new one? That crack looks quite dangerous. What if it breaks while you're walking?" Venkat asked Taatha.
"Oh, don't worry, Venkat! I taped it quite well", Taatha replied and patted Venkat's back. Venkat helped his grandfather into the lift and ran to play with his friends. After playing for a while, Venkat stopped to talk to Shankar as he always did. Shankar was sitting on the floor in an empty parking spot and doing his homework as his parents watched TV in their small apartment.
"Hi, Anna!" Shankar said when he spotted Venkat. The two boys chatted for a while about the cricket match they'd both watched the night before. As Venkat went upstairs, he thought about Shankar sitting outside on the rough floor and working hard at his studies.
Venkat noticed a lot of little things as the week passed by. One day, Lakshmi Aunty asked Amma for a small loan because her scooter needed repairs. Nanna was very stressed out all week because his colleague's father was very ill. The treatment he needed was very expensive. Nanna was trying to arrange for funds to help the family. The lady who sold greens each morning was worried about paying her daughter's school fees.
That Saturday, Venkat, Nanna and Taatha went to the Hanuman temple as they always did. They were a little later than usual since Nanna had some work at the bank that morning. Venkat saw some people setting up tables in the space behind the temple.
"What are they doing, Nanna? Are they going to have a party?" Venkat asked his father.
Nanna smiled and replied, "No, Venkat. They're setting things up for the daily Annadanam".
"What's that?" Venkat asked.
"They're going to serve free food to anyone who comes in", Nanna explained.
"Can we eat there too?" Venkat asked curiously.
"Well, no one is going to stop us if we do. But it's meant for people who have difficulty getting enough food every day. Many temples do this. Every place of worship has its own way of helping the poor", Nanna said.
"But doesn't it cost a lot of money to feed so many people every day?" Venkat asked.
"It does, Venkat. That's why people donate generously to help. Remember? Taatha donates Money towards Annadanam on all our birthdays. Others donate for their own reasons, and such donations add up to keep the program going".
Venkat was very quiet all the way home. He was thinking about all the different reasons people needed money. They needed money for food, clothes, a place to live, medical treatment, and even for the little things they used every day. He thought about all the expensive things his parents bought for him. The superhero T-Shirt he was wearing had cost a lot of money. He wondered if it was a bad thing to buy it.
"Nanna, Taatha, do you think it's bad to buy expensive things for ourselves instead of helping others?" he asked.
Nanna and Taatha smiled. "That's a difficult question to answer, Venkat. Everyone spends their money differently. We need to decide what we feel is right for us", Nanna said. Venkat wasn't too happy with this answer.
Taatha understood that Venkat wanted a different answer. So he said, "Money is a complicated thing, Venkat. It goes round and round. People have jobs in factories making things. Other people have jobs bringing those things to shops and selling them to us. The money you spend goes to everyone who makes and sells the objects we buy.
"Money means different things to different people. You'll learn more about it as you grow up. At your age, you should understand that it's important to work hard and help those around us to the best extent we can".
Venkat was very thoughtful. He said, "At first, I wanted to use my money to buy a Telescope like Naanaji's. Then I saw that Taatha needed a new walking stick, so I wanted to buy him that instead. The next day I really wanted to help Nanna's friend. But I don't have as much money as he needs for the hospital. Then I thought I should buy Shankar a small table and a light to help him study comfortably. And now, I saw how a lot of people need food. I can't decide what to do!"
Taatha and Nanna were very happy to hear Venkat's words. Nanna said, "Venkat, you started the week wanting something for yourself. Now, at the end of the week, you want to help people around you. That is a great change! Now, you might not always need money to help people. Do you think you can find a way to help them all even without really spending money?"
Venkat thought for a few minutes and grinned. "I think I have an answer, Nanna. I will ask Shankar if he wants to use my study table for doing his homework when I'm playing with my friends in the evening. That way, he can study well in comfort. I will make a get well soon card for your friend's father. It might cheer him up. John shares a part of his pocket money at Church every Sunday. I will do the same and give some of the money I get to the temple for the Annadanam. Is that a good idea?"
Taatha smiled and said, "What great ideas! Shankar asked me just this morning if I could help him with his homework. We have the perfect time and place for it now".
Nanna added, "Excellent, Venkat! You and I can also ask the temple if we can help at the Annadanam on Saturdays. All the work is done by volunteers. And I'm sure my friend's father would love to get a card from you".
Venkat and Pragya worked on their cards after lunch. Taatha came to take a look. "What about your stick, Taatha? We forgot all about it!" Venkat exclaimed.
Taatha smiled and said, "My dear boy, thank you so much for worrying about me. But I just ordered a new one online".
"I like helping others, Taatha. It makes me feel so good", Venkat replied and gave his grandfather a hug.