The cell phone beeps – “ Maa ka phone aaya” is a harsh ringtone that is a contradiction to my mom’s pleasing personality. I peel open my eyelids – it’s 5 am and she has called me to wake me up like she has been doing on Diwali every year. I hear the excitement in her ‘hello’. It is my first Diwali away from home. I don’t know if I feel good about being away from my family or not. “We miss you too love. Get up, crawl out of your bed and make a conscious choice to be happy. Happiness won’t find you, you need to find it!” Mom’s voice softly coming over the line dispels my feelings of being low.
Each time I find life getting down, she manages to turn the tables in my favour! I promise her that I will dress well and call her later to wish and chat with the rest of the family. I hurriedly get out of the bed, grab my sneakers and rush to the garden across the street. An early morning stroll through the open green spaces will definitely lighten my mood.
As I step out I see the sky emblazoned with different colours. I sit on the cement benches stretched along the back of the garden. Red, purple, yellow flowers grow alongside a pond. On the other bank of this pond is a low lying compound wall, behind which the poor, the downtrodden, the underprivileged, the unfortunate community, of our society resides here in their tiny huts. Children dressed in their worn-out clothing sit there and wait with their mothers to give them something to eat. I then got to thinking.
Diwali is the festival that celebrates good over evil. In the 21st century poverty is one of the biggest societal evils. What does Diwali mean to the underprivileged?
Diwali. The festival of lights.
Every year millions of firecrackers explode, casting their light in the night skies. ‘Diwali’ seems to mean differently for different strata of society in this ‘modernised’ world we are in today. One stratum belongs to the rich; it’s a grand world. The other belongs to the poor; it’s a vast world. These worlds of the rich and the poor seem to overlap but never really merge. Or do they? Every Diwali the rich paint their happiness all over the sky for the poor to watch.
It is now time for us to realize what we have done to the poor people. Money that we donate to them will last them for a few moments. The food and leftover from our tables will keep them fed for a few more hours. Every Diwali many show their compassion for the underprivileged by gifting them crackers. Many others show their compassion by sharing sweets. They donate sweets on one day and wrongly believe they have satisfied the hunger of the needy! The ones who can’t deal with the subtlety and are even more compassionate and donate money. After all, money is what the richness is all about!
Money, sweets and crackers – is this what the poor are asking for? Many believe it is. I do not.
The compassionate fail to recognize that the very same crackers they burst during this season were made by the hands of these kids. Excesses in food and sweet, during this festival, finds its way into garbage bins. Whilst the empty stomachs of these poor people who long for a fistful of food remain hungry.
Instead, if we spend an hour with them, it will impact them and us alike, for a lifetime. The simplest thing we can do would be spending a day with them and understand what their real problems are.
But this doesn’t fully answer the original question.
What is the meaning of Diwali for the underprivileged people?
These poor kids light up our skies every Diwali. The rich are under the complete control of this Ravana of the 21st century and every Diwali he laughs when the crackers we
burst plunge someone’s life into darkness. The poor know our wants but we don’t bother about their needs. Through the factories, they risk their lives. Diwali in their world was about the lamps that drove away the darkness and not about the crackers that have driven intense darkness in their lives.
As Diwali brings its unique joy of celebration, maybe it not the right time to decide if banning crackers, donating food and money to the needy is the way one should celebrate it. But if not now then when will we consider the unending plight of the underprivileged! Maybe next year or some other time…or maybe never! This year let us closely connect to the people in need and understand the ways in which we can help them find their happiness.
Happiness shared is happiness multiplied. Let’s distribute happiness this Diwali season!