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.

WHAT ARE DIFFERENT WAYS TO CELEBRATE?

Last few years, we have been playing a fun game called “Secret Santa” just before Christmas. It is a lot of fun and basically involves exchanging gifts in secrecy. We always used to fix an amount of money that people should not exceed. However almost every time, there will be one or the other person who would exceed the budget to show off the kind of gifts he/she can buy.

In the year 2017, I played a different kind of “Secret Santa”. There was an organization which was collecting Christmas wishes from kids living in the orphanages. They hardly have the luxury to exchange gifts. This organization then placed a huge ball of wishes in the middle of our campus. Each one of us was supposed to take up a wish and fulfill it for the child. We would never get to meet the child nor would we be able to see the expression on their faces when they receive the gift. But still many of us picked up more than one wish. Some of them really cute and few were emotional.

Those kids were asked to write down their wishes to Santa. Some of them wrote that they wanted a doll or a book or a car. Some of them even wrote that they wanted a family. Most of us tried our level best to fulfill their wishes to the best of our ability. And we so wanted to see how kids react to our gifts.

For me – that was the best “Secret Santa” that I ever played. It was really secret and brought joy to somebody who really needed it.

I ended up wondering why can’t we celebrate every festival in a similar way? Why do we need the decorations, sweets, gifts etc to celebrate a festival?

I realized that it is all about passion. If one is passionate about caring for the poor, they will find ways to work on it. Just like this organization did and they did it beautifully. If one is passionate only for his/her own pleasure, they will work on themselves only. They will show-off, buy big stuff for home, expensive clothes for the family, beautiful gifts for friends etc. There is nothing wrong with enjoyment but in my view, it should have a purpose other than satisfying one’s own desires.

Simple things can help take a big step towards this

  1. Why not share home-made Diwali sweets with underprivileged kids?
  2. Why not decorate an old age home just like you would do to your own on Diwali or Christmas?
  3. Least that can be done is to invite the family of your house help on festivals to celebrate together. Maybe visit their homes as well.
  4. Every republic day and independence, take up a project of planting trees or filling potholes or spot-fixing a garbage area.
  5. Make decorations using recycled material
  6. Make sure the all our idols that are immersed in water are environment-friendly.

I only listed down a few examples. There can be a million ways to give back to society during our own festival celebrations. Only if we make it our mission to do so, it is possible otherwise like most of us, we will always end up prioritizing our own desires over anything and everything else.

One of the biggest problem in our “Big Fat Indian Weddings” is the wastage of food. Of course, a lot of other things are wasted too and to top the list is the clothing and jewelry. But food wastage saddens me the most because usually close by the wedding halls are the slums who has kids and adults sleeping with an empty stomach. It could be so easy if we could just give away tons of food that turned out to be extra to these beggars and slums sleeping hungry. The only problem here is to arrange for logistics. There is some organization who have started this work, but in my view, the families of the bride and groom and the wedding point owners should take it up as their duty to ensure that every bite of the food cooked goes to a hungry person.

Do not waste. Every time you know that something is getting wasted, raise your voice and find out ways to get it to the person who can use it. It is so simple, only if this becomes a way of living life.

I am struggling to get there and I believe many more are. A lot of us want to do good but just don’t know how. Here is a simple solution – make it a mission of your life and you will find a way.

Celebrate because you love the festival and spirit behind not because it is supposed to be done in a certain way.

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.

ON THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION

What is the purpose of Education? Why do we go to schools and colleges? Are our lives determined by our board percentages? Is the pressure on the students and teachers justified? These numerous questions and more prop up in my head when I think about education and its purpose. In schools everyone asks about the toppers and the not-so good performers are looked down upon. And once people get jobs and start working they are asked: “Dude, what’s your salary?”, “How much package does the company pays you?” Have you ever seen the nature of the job or the actual tasks to be performed by the prospective employee reported on the newspaper? I don’t think so as the only thing which is reported and highlighted is the highest annual salary package granted to supposedly the most brilliant and most meritorious student.

Is the purpose of education to enable us to earn money and get rich? Earning money is definitely a necessity but education is not meant to serve this purpose. Rather its purpose is to make us become open-minded, life-long learners; help us in finding our interests and become ethically judicious human beings. Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton was not the richest person in the world. Neither was our beloved former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, but they contributed to our world in the best possible way they could. And perhaps that’s the biggest purpose of education. Of course not all of us can gain that level of expertise and excellence in our respective fields, but that does not matter. We still retain the power to influence and touch the lives of so many around us and influence our society in a positive way.

In the modern materialistic world we are taught to be competitive and consistently outperform others. This leads to cheating and use of unfair means in the examination. Education should teach and guide us to share and work together, synergize and learn from each other. Just because a student gets the highest marks does not mean he knows everything. Even he can learn something from the poorest performer who may have his or her strengths which our mark-based rigid examination system fails to gauge. Teachers play a pivotal role in helping these academically weaker students. Unfortunately, teachers are also subject to the system and are pressured to focus on the high-performers than each student to boost the reputation of the schools. The school is for the students and not the other way round.

In India we have a very peculiar way of coercing the students to choose subjects. Most of them are pushed to choose science and mathematics because these subjects have the biggest earning potential. Engineers and doctors are the highly respected professions apart from the highly coveted IAS services and other Central Government jobs. What does this lead to? This leads to corrupt bureaucrats who are not at all interested in serving the people and select the jobs just to enjoy the benefits. There is no harm in enjoying the perks but providing service should be the priority. Likewise we have heartless doctors who ask for money before treating a dying patient. Engineers are plagued with inefficiency and do bogus work without any civic responsibility for the safety of people. Sometimes I feel like these are the worst sort of people, as they are educated bandits, looting the common man of their hard earned money.

None of us are encouraged to become teachers who remain the backbone of our education system. It’s because of them, the few who have inspired and influenced us; we have managed to make something of ourselves. Perhaps someday we will realize that life is more than money and that every profession is necessary and respectful in its own way. Education is not limited to school and is imbibed from every experience we ever encounter and every person we meet throughout the course of our lives. So let’s keep learning, let’s remain a student, let’s keep moving forward.