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Deepavali means different things to different people in city

Vasudha Venugopal
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Donors increasing but residents say only few visit them

Seasons' greetings: Children at AIKYA, a centre for special children, make posters for Deepavali on Saturday. — Photo: M. Karunakaran
Seasons' greetings: Children at AIKYA, a centre for special children, make posters for Deepavali on Saturday. — Photo: M. Karunakaran

Deepavali means different things to different people. For ten-year-old Anbarasan of Anbu Ilam, an orphanage, it is about opening a gift that he gets from the company sponsoring the celebrations. “I hope I get a shirt with a matching cap. Last time my friend Velan got one,” he says.

He also looks forward to eating dosai with sambhar and kesari and watching new movies on TV. “Not all children are fond of crackers. Some of them have worked in those factories. They tend to stay away from them,” says Anbarasan's caretaker R. Rajamani.

For 83-year-old S. Jayalakshmi at Anbu Karangal, it is about reminiscing the times she celebrated the festival at home, and trying to relax as younger residents create a racket with crackers. “I used to work all the time, making sure my children enjoyed every bit of the day. Now, I watch these children,” says the woman, who has been living in the home since her family left her there eight years ago.

A few kilometres away along the Rajiv Gandhi Salai, many construction workers from the northern and eastern States are hesitant to talk about the festival, unwilling to relive the burden of memories. After much prompting Sundarlal Yadav, from Uttar Pradesh says, “There would be barfi , peda and laddu at home. Here we get it from sweet shops, but the taste is nowhere close. We are hired on three-month contracts that we cannot break,” says the 31 year-old, whose wife and three children are in Azamgarh.

“We have something called the Kaali Bihu that is very important for the household, but few know about it here. They burst crackers so early in the morning here. We would start only in the evening there and it would go on the whole night,” says Jagat Kshatriya from Assam.

Most of these workers say celebrating the festival here does not make any sense. “We can save the little money that we would spend otherwise. What is festival without family,” says Mr. Kshatriya.

The number of donations for homes and orphanages has increased over the years but residents say only a few donors visit them, as the electronic medium is preferred while transferring money. Also, the relatively well-known ones are flooded with sponsorship requests while others struggle to make ends meet.

“On the day of Deepavali alone, many homes end up with over 20 kg of sweets that goes waste,” says S. Thilak Raj founder, Sevai Karangal. Many companies sponsor fun trips for children, donate large packets of crackers and tons of clothes that children look forward to. “But we insist that the donated clothes are at least washed and ironed,” he adds. “Clothes that do not fit the children are given away to vendors to get buckets,” says Shanmugham, caretaker, Anbu Karangal.

Hand-made cards are slowly being replaced by ornately decorated products, mostly made by elders, say the heads of NGOs who used to engage children to make cards and raise funds. Now only a few famous NGOs have tie ups with card companies, while the smaller NGOs send cards only to donors to thank them.

Even special children look forward to the festivities. Malini Ganesh, a special educator at AIKYA says, “We try to get them excited about the festival. Often, parents don't engage these children in festivities, especially bursting crackers.”

Some well-known orphanages and homes each have over 30 companies vying to sponsor. “But how many people are actually willing to spend time with the children and the elders remains a question. Even if it is for an hour to supervise them as they burst crackers, it could be of major help. Many homes do no conduct such activities for safety reasons and lack of space,” says Mr. Thilak Raj.

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