How not to ask for help

Updated: Jul 12, 2020, 07:05 IST | Paromita Vohra | Mumbai

But, there is another reason: sheer stinginess of spirit. Some people want you to do something for them, but make it sound like they are doing something for you

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Paromita VohraDo you find it hard to ask people for help? Many people do. Their reasons are many.

Protecting one's ego is one—people don't like to be turned down or rejected and not everyone refuses gracefully. Pride is another—I can do things on my own, I don't need others. Low self-esteem is a third—why would anyone help me? These are human responses we all struggle with before we understand that humility is not humiliation.

But, there is another reason: sheer stinginess of spirit. Some people want you to do something for them, but make it sound like they are doing something for you.

People in the arts would be most familiar with this—for instance, those that are asked to work for free because it will be "good exposure". For the last couple of years, I have increasing invitations to "collaborate". Someone wants to start their own Instagram account and thinks I should make free content for them because "I care about feminism and your content is cool". A huge corporate feels I should photograph my underarm hair for their social media campaign—for free, kyunki the theme is freedom na and we will be feminist partners (bye bye). Most recently someone said they wanted to give me the opportunity to promote their content. It's like inviting someone for dinner and asking them to pay for the food. It's like saying, if she wears a short dress, she is sexually available to everyone. It's like politicians saying let's collaborate for vikas. It is the pretend-equality of those committed to the worlds of hierarchy.

Collaboration entails people bringing their abilities or resources together for a unified objective that will benefit them both, spiritually or materially. Anything other than that, which is not paid work, is a request, a favour, asking for help. But could I have missed the announcement that the word collaborate would now on mean help?

I once had a defining conversation with an older filmmaker. I was looking for a composer for a film and he suggested a fairly famous person. I started laughing. "What will I pay him with? I don't have that kind of money!" My friend looked mystified and then said, "with love, Paromita. With love." And he was right, philosophically and politically speaking.

I have done many things for other people for free or very little—written scripts, volunteered my time, edited their pieces. Likewise, I have asked many people for their help—and never pretended otherwise. I've told them if I have no or very little money and why I want their help, and prepared myself to accept their refusal without hard feelings. And many people have indeed helped me. Their reasons are diverse—sometimes they liked me, or had their own principles about a kind of work or issue. Uncommon, conventionally un-profitable things, sometimes need uncommon methods to manifest. People help because they are generous, kind, easygoing, comradely, enthu cutlets or just, well, helpful. To not acknowledge this expansiveness as precious, reveals small-mindedness, an inability to value things in terms of anything but power, money or status. It is to pretend that you are never indebted to anyone, yaniki, atmanirbhar.

The edges of this difficult time reveal that we need to make communities of inter-dependence and reciprocity to survive and to thrive. Asking for help, carefully, gracefully, gratefully is a skill-set and philosophy to cultivate.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

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