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HindustanTimes Sat,02 Aug 2014

Light years from true Diwali

Ravneet Sangha, Hindustan Times   November 12, 2012
First Published: 23:03 IST(12/11/2012) | Last Updated: 23:05 IST(12/11/2012)

What happens when you get carried away by the festival spirit and realise later that you have hurt someone's feelings unknowingly? I wish I could rewind the moment and take back my words.


In our evening school, with Diwali coming up, we are holding a diya competition; you know, the childhood game of buying an earthen pot or lamp and painting and decorating it with little pieces of coloured string, buttons, and other odds and ends. It is what we do, normal people, who do not have iPads or the plan of a fancy outing to burn money on instant gratification.

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I ask the class to wear new, nice clothes, as we'll vote for the best diya maker and display the child's work in the panchayat office, which for about 60% of the rural schoolchildren, is best recognition their families will ever have. I forgot from where they all had come.

Insensitive to the point of a thick-skinned rhino (a female one), I repeat the instructions. A boy, Harpreet of Class 2 in the government school of my village, brightest of all and sitting in front, keeps quiet, calm in the cacophony of "yes ma'am" voices. He avoids eye contact. I look at him, and announce that anyone who needs something can say it in my ear, and no one will know.

Nothing, nada, zilch; he looks up for a second and walks out. Since, then I'm filled with guilt. Many students in the class come from a very poor background. I didn't realise that before speaking. My words have made a little boy aware of his poverty and inadequacy.

There he is, trying his best to be on par with better-off schoolchildren, and I remind him of his place. In a festival that promises light and cheer, how can I lift his spirits again?

The Diwali light fails to reach millions of people in this country, while the rest of us are guilty of gluttony and wastage. One set cannot afford a new outfit and a few crackers to celebrate, while our lights blind us and our revelry deafens us to the sounds of poverty around us.

To spread light, it is important to share some wealth. I committed a gaffe and will atone for this. I will try to mend a broken heart. And you?

The writer can be reached at ravneetsangha@hotmail.com

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