A brighter Diwali!

(Earlier posted as ‘A brighter festival of lights’ on August 05, 2013 and on November 02, 2013 (Diwali). Re-posted on the request of a few friends who wanted this post to be a Diwali tradition!)

“How much will we be spending on fireworks this Diwali?” my 12 years old son asked me one evening over a decade back. “Last year, we got all that you wanted for about Rs. 1000. I suppose we’ll spend about Rs. 1,500 this year since prices would have increased, plus there will be some new fancy stuff that you guys will want. Anyway, why are you asking this now? Diwali’s over a month away,” I replied.

He explained that there had been a lot of discussion in school about the exploitation of child labour in the fireworks industry, as a result of which many students had decided to boycott fireworks as a mark of protest. He and his 9 years old brother had both decided to join the boycott. No, they did not want to buy anything for themselves instead of fireworks. They felt that would not be a genuine boycott. Instead, they wanted the ‘fireworks money’ to be donated to an orphanage near our house.

Both my spouse and I were delighted! At the same time, we wanted to be sure that our sons were not committing themselves to something that they would regret later when their high spirits had cooled down. After all, they were just 12 and 9 years old! We asked them a few questions to find out if they were fully aware of the implications of their decision.

Both brothers had discussed the matter threadbare before speaking with us. They had decided that, not only would they not buy fireworks, they would not join any Diwali celebrations involving fireworks. They planned to continue this boycott for subsequent years until they were completely convinced that exploitation of children in the fireworks industry had totally and genuinely stopped. They were not sure whether their friends were equally firm in their resolve to boycott fireworks, but for them there was no going back.

That year, we celebrated Diwali without any fireworks. We donated the ‘fireworks money’ to the orphanage. It was clear from the reduced sound levels that many other children had joined the boycott.

The next year, most children withdrew the boycott of fireworks, stating that they were buying fireworks manufactured by companies that did not use child labour. However, our sons continued their boycott because it was reported that, while some manufacturers had stopped employing children directly, their sub-contractors continued to exploit child labour. Our donation to the orphanage was suitably increased to match the expected increase in fireworks prices.

Our sons were aware that their continued boycott of fireworks invited disparaging comments from some of their peers, but they never went back on their decision. We continue to make a donation to the orphanage every Diwali, with the amount suitably increased every year.

Our sons’ compassion (towards the child labourers and the orphans) and integrity (in refusing to use the ‘fireworks money’ for themselves) enhanced the brightness of our Diwali, the ‘festival of lights’!

We educated Indians must stop pointing fingers at others

Recently, I overheard an interesting conversation between two persons. The conversation started with the man commenting on the bad habits of Indians (littering, smoking in public, spitting, urinating and defecating in public, breaking traffic rules, etc., etc.) and proclaiming that he had never seen such things in the 20 years that he’d lived in USA.

The woman replied, “Our people are so disgusting! They’ll never improve! It’s so frustrating!” and continued, “What about the function? Are all preparations done?”

The man replied that everything was under control, and added, “‘Didi’ (elder sister), I was really impressed by your husband’s contacts! Everybody gave us special treatment! Do you know I’m saving a hefty sum on the catering bill because the caterer offered to accept half the payment in cash, which means no tax on that amount!! He said he does this only for special people like Doctor Saab!”

Wow! This man had studied in USA and worked there for over a decade. After waxing eloquent about the lousy habits of Indians, he proudly proclaimed that he had saved money by doing something illegal, which had been facilitated by a highly respected medical practitioner!!! This man and his brother-in-law, both highly educated, did something that they knew was illegal.

We educated Indians are experts at criticizing the visible bad habits of our countrymen, but we ourselves have some really bad habits, which we do nothing about because we think they are invisible.
1. Have I always paid Income Tax in full, declaring all my income?
2. Have I never bought/used smuggled goods?
3. Have I never bribed a policeman or a government servant?
4. Have I never spoken on my cellphone while driving?
5. Have I never engaged child labour?
6. Have I never used official facilities (car, telephone, etc.) for personal use?
7. Have I never used software, books or CDs that are pirated?

I have listed 7 questions, but there are many more. We should ask ourselves these questions. If we can answer YES to all these questions, then, we have the right to criticise others. If not, we must first try to change ourselves for the better before trying to change others.

Many of the people who litter, smoke in public, spit, or urinate and defecate in public do not even realize that they are doing something wrong. In some cases, people urinate and defecate in public because they have no access to toilets.

However, we educated Indians indulge in wrong acts knowing that what we are doing is wrong! Further, we are not constrained by circumstances. For example, the man who paid half the catering bill in cash could easily have afforded to pay the tax on the entire bill.

Let us all remember: “When you point one finger at someone else, three of your own fingers point back to you.”

This post is being shared for Indispire Edition 24.