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Saturday, Nov 23, 2019

Spectator by Seema Goswami: Pray it forward

This Diwali, ask Goddess Lakshmi to shower her blessings on those who need it the most (and no, that’s not you)

brunch Updated: Oct 19, 2019 21:11 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami
Hindustan Times
Instead of blowing up thousands of rupees on setting the sky ablaze commit to paying for a girl child’s education
Instead of blowing up thousands of rupees on setting the sky ablaze commit to paying for a girl child’s education
         

For me, the most important part of Diwali has never been the lights, the fireworks, the mithai, the new clothes, or even the endless parties. The one moment that makes Diwali meaningful for me is when I settle down in my little puja nook, along with my family, to pray to the Goddess Lakshmi to bless us with prosperity over the coming year. This ritual became even more important to me when I married a Gujarati, because for him, this day marks the beginning of the New Year. So, how better to celebrate than to importune Lakshmi Mata – whom we worship only on this one day – to shower us with all things bright and beautiful.

One good way of improving the quality of life of those who work for you is to get them medical insurance – and pay the premiums yourself

This year, though, as the temperatures drop in the early morning and late evening, and the unmistakable scent of the festive season is in the air, I have begun to reassess the modus operandi I fall back on every Diwali. This year, I am beginning to wonder if all that praying for myself and my loved ones, isn’t just a tad selfish.

After all, like most of you reading this article, we are the lucky ones. We have a roof over our heads, enough to eat, and with a bit of luck, a steady income coming in every month that covers all our needs – ‘wants’ are another matter altogether. We may want more. Hell, we always want more. But is that really what we should be asking for on the one day we turn our attention to the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity?

I think not.

In a world in which income disparity is rising to obscene levels, in an environment in which some people have so much and others have to make do with so little, doesn’t it make sense to mark this festival by doing our bit for others, instead of holding out for more for ourselves?

And by that I don’t just mean that we tack on a few heartfelt words to our prayers when we sit down in front of our Ganesh-Lakshmi idols as we do our Puja on Diwali. That’s a good start. And it’s always a good idea to pray it forward. But that’s not enough in itself – not by any measure.

So what, you ask, could we do, in concrete terms, to pay it forward as well? Well, just to start you off, here are a few suggestions:

 For every present you send to a business contact, for every hamper of goodies you send to friends and family, set an equivalent amount of money aside to give to those less fortunate than yourself. You could make a contribution to a local orphanage. You could buy gifts for underprivileged children in your locality. You could use that money to host a lunch or dinner on Diwali day for those who can’t afford to feast on their own incomes. The options are endless – and limited only by your imagination.

 If you want to make a more permanent impact on other people’s lives, then this is the time to make a grand gesture. Instead of blowing up thousands of rupees on setting the sky ablaze for one night commit to paying for a girl child’s education until she graduates school (there are plenty of charities that facilitate this). If you want to keep it personal, take on the educational expenses of the kids of your household help or office staff.

 One good way of improving the quality of life of those who work for you is to get them medical insurance – and pay the premiums yourself. That’s one way to guarantee that even when they no longer work for you, one medical emergency won’t render them bankrupt, or make them homeless. And that might well be the best Diwali gift they ever receive.

 If you get a Puja or Diwali bonus from the company you work at, don’t fail to pay it forward. Buying your staff a sari or shirt as a festival gift is all very well, but money speaks louder than any token gifts at this time of year. Be generous and give them a cash gift so that they can enjoy the festival with their families as well. A month’s salary is a good ballpark, though you could go up or down depending on how generous you are feeling.

At the end of the day, all that matters is that you share your good fortune with those less fortunate than yourself this festive season – even more so if they work for you. How this generosity manifests itself, is entirely up to you, as long as you remember to both pay – and pray – it forward.

Journalist and author Seema Goswami has been a columnist with HT Brunch since 2004

Spectator appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, October 20, 2019

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