Arif, My Diwali Rangoli is Dedicated to You—May Your Taalluq Stay
(This is a personal blog. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
The above couplet by Kaif Bhopali, the Urdu poet who gave us the ageless melody from Paqeezah, ‘chalo dildaar chalo, chaand ke paar chalo’ can be loosely translated as:
Some days those were when even we had something to do with Dussehra, Diwali, the season of spring, and the blooms !
Can someone’s taalluq (relationship, concern) with Diwali actually come to an end? Is Diwali fast getting fetishised, and in the process the joy attached to it becoming territorial and exclusive? This Diwali an innocuous encounter has rendered me speechless.
Colours of Diwali
On Saturday, I made a daunting visit to a bursting-at-its-seams strictly middle-class South Delhi market. The stated purpose was a medical appointment but the lure of golgappas can’t be overstated. Diwali was writ large on the collective countenance of the market. Including that of Arif’s.
While I was happily wolfing down one golgappa after the other, a 10-year-old boy stole my attention with the semi-trained cheery shrillness of an eager salesman. “Aunty, colour le lo colour....rangoli ke colour.” Oh well, why not! I lack artistic talent but my enthusiasm for rangoli overcompensates for it. Every year there are experiments in forms and motifs that get broomed away the very next day after eliciting polite “how nice” expressions from people who don’t want to hurt my feelings.
I was billed for Rs. 440/- I gave a 500-rupee-note to the boy and he vanished to fetch chhutta. I was collecting my colour pouches when he re-appeared and proffered me the change they owed me. I was feeling ineffectually charitable so I said, “Keep this for mithai, beta. What is your name?” He replied after hesitating for a second. “Ariph,” he said. The boy gave this mithai money to his chacha whose face lit up and he did an enthusiastic salaam.
The duo exuded such delight that it made me shudder. I’ve rarely felt more disgusted in life.
Diwali For Sixty Rupees
Sixty rupees. Enough to bring Diwali home to two human beings that evening.
Abject penury that drives people to despair. That throws many boys and girls of Arif’s age into the unrelenting clutches of child labour and trafficking. Yes, the number of poor in India has come down from 630 million to 360 million between 2005-06 to 2015-16. Yes, we are one of the fastest growing economies. Yes, Arif is small for his age, like other 40% children in this country. Yes, he is visibly malnourished and perhaps receives little to no education.
I am usually a good talker. I can talk to utter strangers and sometimes they become best friends forever. Like that auto-rickshaw driver in Hampi who refused to leave me at the deserted bus stop at midnight and took me to his house instead, where his family ensured my uninterrupted power-nap. This evening, however, I found no words to share with Arif. I left without even looking at him again. I didn’t even respond to his “Happy Diwali, Aunty!”
How Happy Are We, After All?
What would I tell him, anyway?
That every call for not bursting crackers on Diwali is seen as an attack on Hinduism, so real Hindus burst even more crackers to ensure kids like him grow up with respiratory diseases? That our government spends Rs 3 per day per capita on public health? That my sixty-rupee tip is enough to keep him above the poverty line because Tendulkar Committee had estimated in 2011-12 that 269.3 million Indians were poor using a poverty line of just ₹27.2 per person per day in rural and ₹33.3 per person per day in urban areas?
How could I say “Happy Diwali” to a boy who, perhaps, has already been made to feel that the colour and shine of Diwali are not for him anymore? For whom Diwali may be nothing more than a spurt in economic activity ensuring he doesn’t go hungry at least that night. But for how long? How long before exclusivism and otherising engulf occupations, too? All I can do is dedicate my rangoli to him.
Perhaps my extra sixty rupees will buy him a meal the morning after when Delhi wakes up in an apocalyptic haze.