LOVE MY NEIGHBOUR

When I was a kid I used to get very interested when the secretary of the church used to announce about giving out old normal clothes as well as warm the clothes for free distribution among the poor on the streets in the winter time. And I used to feel bad that I was not able to participate in that noble act carried out by my elders. But when we initiated a project called ‘Love My Neighbour’ officially I was so delighted to be part of that.

Few very important and interesting facts I want to share with you all today about LMN.

In the beginning, we approached our friends, families, church members, different other partner organizations to give out their old but usable clothes or warm clothes. Then we stock them in one of our office rooms. We allotted few of our young boys to sort them all out according to their sizes and usability. One very committed young staff took initiative to supervise the whole thing and I want to draw the attention of my readers to this guy’s attitude towards this whole distribution project.

He discarded all those clothes which were torn or not in a usable condition. He organized to wash them all and he iron pressed one after the other personally. He folded them after ironing and put them in brown paper envelopes. He categorized each of those envelopes according to the sizes of the clothes inside them.

In the end, he was itching and scratching his skins because of handling dirty, old clothes of different people.

We initiated the distribution work at 12 AM to 2 AM in the night and gifted those packets when the beggars and poor people were fast asleep on the streets. On receiving his share of the packet, one old man started singing an old Bollywood song, “Ajeeb Dastaan Hai. Kahan Suru Kahan Khatam…” (What a surprising tale it is… when it begins and when it finishes…what’s the destination no one knows…).

This whole project gave us immense pleasure and joy. We were blessed by those old men and women on the streets.

But what caught my attention was that young colleague’s attitude towards all that he did. That was commendable. He was applauded and appraised greatly for his work and attitude. He didn’t do it as an assignment or ritual or tradition. But he did it out sheer love, care, and warmth for those who were desperately in need. And I feel this was the best way we should be celebrating or letting those deprived people part of our celebration during all these events we lavishly enjoy every year.

Stay Blessed!

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REFLECTION ON CELEBRATION

My favourite month of the year is ‘December & January’ because it’s Christmas and my Birthday! The December advent smells me Carols, Christmas lights, Cakes and Sweets, Shopping, Family get-together, a series of marriage parties, Christmas Night ride, Fun and Hang-out with friends. Moreover, ‘It’s time to get a lot of gifts’. Sadly, What-to-do now! It’s all over, yet to wait another 309 days.

Uff… wish these 309 days would pass away overnight!

Through-out the year, we work hard and saves for our Festivals and Celebrations. In my research I found, the minimum expenditure of a family for a small religious festival is at least Rs. 10,000/-  and for an average Urban marriage function, it is 15–20 lakh. According to the Reliance money research, the Indian wedding industry accounts for over Rs. 1,00,000 crores and it is growing at a rapid rate of 25-30% each year. But at the end of every event, someone’s punch line would be – ‘Oh, it’s nothing worth comparing to my colleague Mr. Dixit’s ring ceremony!

With the advent of 2019, the New Year night road accident statistic increased to 71%. In every Indian city, at least 5-6 young people below the age of 35 die in the road accident. On 2nd January 2019, India Today reported, UP guzzles down 50 lakh liters of alcohol on New Year’s Eve! To be more specific, 18 lakh bottles of IMFL were sold and 23 lakh bottles of Beer were sold, in JUST AN EVENING!

These staggering statistics triggers us to one question,

WHAT IS THIS CELEBRATION ALL ABOUT?
WHERE DO OUR CELEBRATIONS LEAD US?

The celebration is a gathering of people which DEFINES a Definite Reason. It is an opportune time to Include people in our happiness, Interact with them more significantly and Convey our Love for them. The joy we share with others precipitates good wishes, blessings, and gifts.

I have received many expensive gifts from my family and friends in my life yet, for me the most priceless birthday gift I have ever received was in a piece of paper – A beautiful poem was written by my most beloved friend. I still treasure it in my wallet and carry it everywhere I go. It is just a piece of paper but the emotions, the love and the feelings it reflects are true and sacred.

Celebration and Gifts strengthen the bonding of our relationships. It reaffirms the JOY – SACREDNESS – SACRIFICIAL LOVE we have for them. The greatest evidence of it is – “God loved mankind and gave His only begotten Son, whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

What do our Celebrations and Gifts reflect today?

Keep thinking…

GRANDEUR WITH GENEROSITY

A certain king once prepared a lavish feast to celebrate his son’s marriage. As was the custom in his kingdom, on the day of the banquet he sent out his servants to fetch the invited guests to revel in the celebrations. To the utter dismay of the king, his servants came back disappointed. All of the invited guests had given some reason or the other to express their regret and inability to be a part of the celebrations. The king lamented over his foolishness to have invited such people. He then ordered his servants to go to the highways and bring as many commoners as they could to enjoy the grand feast. And so, there were a houseful of commoners who heartily enjoyed the lavish spread in place of those whom the king had earlier considered worthy of being a part of his feast.

Though the above narration is a parable, it reflects well the mannerisms of guests in today’s times. Partying was once a privilege offered by occasions. Material affluence has rendered partying into a regular affair, so much so that we tend to pick and choose which party to attend and which to let go. The importance of the occasion and the regard for the invitation thus go unheeded. This is the invitee-sentiment in most cases today.

Invitors or hosts, on the other hand, leave no stone unturned to showcase a pompous celebration. This is true for festive as well as special day celebrations be it marriages, birthdays, anniversaries, bridal showers or bachelor parties, house warming functions or baby-naming ceremonies. Competition to be a level higher than a friend, neighbour or relative in terms of the decorations, cuisines, innovative planning, return gifts, etc. takes precedence. At times hosts incur huge financial loans to present their exclusive grandeur.  

It’s not a hidden fact that many a lavish celebration speaks of the superficiality therein. And, how many celebrity marriages have succumbed to the pressures of time and events! It’s time to look deep within rather than look outwards and estimate the costs of competitive showcasing while sparing a thought for those deprived.

Isn’t it paradoxical that festivals and special occasions which are meant for all human beings (according to respective cultural and religious beliefs) have become the privilege of those who are socially and economically well off? I often wonder on 31st December and 1st January every year, if the poor cycle rickshaw drivers, the autorickshaw drivers, the beggars in the street corners even know and understand what the frenzy in the air all about! Do the child labourers get to feel special on 14th November every year as Indians observe Children’s Day or is it again the luxury enjoyed by the children privileged to have been enrolled in schools? Though the law of the land ensures free and compulsory elementary education for all children, many children in our country are still to be a part of it. Poverty, along with economic deprivation also creates huge social chasms!

What ought to be our response, then?

During Christmas celebrations every year, I remember the following verse from the Bible and try my bit to do my part:

“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.”

It’s not wrong to celebrate. But when we do celebrate, firstly let’s be sure that we enjoy the purpose and sentiments of the occasion with all sincerity and secondly, lets spare a thought to the poor and needy – not giving them leftovers simply to get rid of the surplus, but by deliberately planning to make them a part of our celebrations in some way.

The following teaching in the Bible has always intrigued me, since my childhood days.

“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I used to think if it is really feasible to do the above, what would people think, would relatives not feel that the host is merely being a miser and cutting costs, etc. Though easier said than done, it is not impossible.

Though one cannot change the whole world, one can definitely impact one’s immediate surroundings. True celebration is in seeing pure joy in the face of those who are often relegated to the recesses and not in merely showcasing one’s grandeur.

When the Creator Himself causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall in equal measures on the rich and the poor, it is our utmost responsibility to lessen the disparities caused by economic barriers.

A LITTLE EFFORT HAS A BIGGER IMPACT

For me, festivals and birthdays mean a lot of work and preparations. Still, I manage to enjoy it. Like every person, I too look forward to my birthday and I feel extremely happy when the day arrives. When I was a kid, I used to wait desperately for my birthday cake and gifts. I would choose the best dress and would live my “princess moment”. This happened every year until I celebrated it in a different way.

I was in 11th standard. I was heading back home after evening classes. The chilly winter wind was trying its best to penetrate through my jacket. The more it went windy, the faster I walk. I went to confectionery and ordered my favorite Gulab Jamun. I came out of the confectionery and found a girl staring inside the glass door. I could sense hunger and helplessness in those eyes. I asked “Bhookh lagi hai?” (Are you hungry?). She chose to remain silent. I took out a piece of sweet and gestured her to take it. She kept staring at the sweet for 2-3 minutes. And then she hesitatingly took it. I could see bliss in her eyes. I bought her few chocolates. I got immense pleasure and that was incomparable. Since then, I try my best to have a good time with poor kids.

Yesterday was my birthday. And due to some reasons, I couldn’t celebrate it. I and my cousin share the same birth-date. So yesterday he was celebrating his birthday. He bought a cake and went on the street. He called the hard-up kids for celebrating his birthday. Four kids surrounded him and were so happy. My cousin cut the cake and fed one of the kids with his hand. I am sure he must be happy. This made me so glad.

There have been numerous occasions when I have celebrated Diwali and other festivals with such people. The happiness on their face is divine. The crackers and sweets can make you happy for a moment. However, when you do such deeds, you get lifetime happiness. I know you would say one can’t bring contentment to everyone. But when we stretch helping hands to people, gloominess will turn into gladness.

I wish someday I will celebrate an occasion at an orphanage or at an old-age home. By this, I can be a reason for their happiness, at least for an instance. When you put your effort into making someone happy, then you get mental peace and you feel delighted. It is not necessary to spend a huge amount. But a little effort is appreciated all the time. Our society and many organizations are joining their hands for uplifting the underprivileged and malnutrition kids. Therefore, let us be a part of this noble deed. Being a reason for someone’s happiness is a blessing.

CELEBRATIONS – WHAT HAS CHANGED?

In India, there was a time when almost every day of the year was a festival. Festival celebration was an aid to bring enthusiasm and happiness In the 1950s and prior to that, festivals were never restricted to family and friends, such was the importance of it. Culturally as well, if there is anything good happening in our family, like welcoming a newborn into this world, someone recovering from a serious illness, according to our beliefs we offer a prayer. There is more to prayer than visiting a temple. We celebrate the occasion by serving food to poor people, it’s called ‘anna daanam’ which literally translates to giving food to the needy. Giving what we have, what we can be considered holy.

In earlier days, there was a definitive way in which festivals were celebrated. Not just the festivals, birthdays, anniversaries were celebrated differently. To celebrate a birthday of kid, the kid was encouraged to distribute clothes to the needy. Blessings from poor people are the most important part than other things we do on that day. Sharing and caring for those who are in need were always part of our culture. Over time this has changed. The impact is that we are no more concerned about the poor. 

Take Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations as an example. We never had 70 feet idols, 100 KG laddu’s (sweet treat) to celebrate the festival. Millions of rupees are spent on setting up the idol, maintaining it for a duration of 9 – 11 days. A festival that started as a family affair now is celebrated nationwide at a scale where billions of rupees are exchanged, if I may say so, billions of rupees are wasted. 

The most recent Christmas. Earlier only Christians used to celebrate Christmas. Now almost people from all religions celebrate it, which is a good thing. Kids are all excited to decorate the Christmas tree and happily receive their gifts. I was at my friends’ place a couple of weeks before Christmas. My friend found a letter in her son’s room. “Dear Santa, you know I have been a good boy. I got good grades and haven’t bothered anyone. I would love mummy and daddy. Please give me the Nintendo switch and also new bicycle. Love you Santa”. 

My friend came out of the room with a burst of big laughter and said, “See what he is asking for.. gifts worth more than 500$. Did we ever do that? We never even used to ask if we want something. Such was the discipline we were brought up in and these kids seem to take these gifts for granted. I want to teach him the value and he should earn the gift by doing something significant”. She made him pack all the old toys he was no more using and told him that she is gonna give away the toys to some other kids. He was not ready to share them, my friend convinced him saying he should let other kids play with those toys if he needs a new one. He reluctantly agreed at the end. 

Holidays are about spreading the love. Holidays are about treating others with compassion. Nothing has changed from olden days to know about festivals or celebrations. What has changed is how we look at them. It is not buying new clothes, organizing grand parties, or party hard till late at night and wake up with a hangover. It is not buying costly gifts or toys for kids. Is there anyone who we can help? How about picking up your phone and inviting an old friend over lunch? Pay a visit to the dog shelter and give a shower to them? Buy clothes or food for someone in need. Spend some time with elders in old age home. Please don’t spend all the money and energy in gifting someone who may not be very grateful for it, instead help someone who really is in need of something. The fulfillment we get doing something to others is a greater joy than everything else.

THAT’S ALL, FOLKS!!!

So, we are once again at the crossover. Once again hoping that the next year will be great. Once again retrospecting what this passing year gave us, took from us, left with us.

I am thinking how to fill this page, but I am filled with a weird sort of void. At the same time, I am overwhelmed with all that happened.

I won’t say it was one of the best years of my life, but then good, better and best, these superlatives are perceptions, depending on our sagacity. I took one great hit this year, an emotional trauma that I am not able to forget and move on. It cost me deeply, it cost me some cherished bonds and lots of trusts.

I also saw two of my very close family members suffer greatly owing to terminal diseases and I am unsure whether they will be with us for long. And I sold something of nostalgic significance to me. But I have to convince myself that it was for the best.

This year taught me that friends must be made with utmost care and prudence and some people are just not meant to be with you for a very long time. I realised that mental peace is the key to hard work. Without a calm mind, without tranquillity of the soul, you will lose all your charm and your talents along with your vision dreams. In this journey called life, you have to let go off many people and many things that were once dear to you.

I have grown as a person this year. I am proud of myself for somethings and embarrassed about a few. But the secret is to accept it all and move on, never stay stagnant. I saw a lot of change in me, and earlier I was scared of changing but now I know, it is the only right way to be. A person who won’t accept change will erode with time.

I am also disappointed in myself for not chasing my aspirations vehemently. I should have given them more of my time. But no use regretting, let this coming year be a clean sheet and let us all rewrite our destiny. I am gonna see at least one of my dream realise this year.

For you all, my readers and my writer friends, I hope the coming year brings you all happiness and health, wealth and wisdom, love and friendship and last but not the least, peace and hope. I am in no position to preach, but I am an Indian too, I can’t help but give some unsolicited advice.

“Stay Humble. Stay Kind. Stay Humane. Think Twice. Act Wisely. Save For Future. Don’t Waste Food. Care to Share. Forget Sorrows. Forgive Foes. Fall in Love. Value Parents. Spend Time with Family. Take A Trip. and Live Good!

Happy New Year!!!