Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lighting up lives ......अशीही एक दिवाळी

Festival days around the corner. And so along with giving the house a decent swipe with brooms,mops and assorted cleaning agents, its time again to get organized with the various savouries and sweets we make at Divali.

At one time, Divali , described as a festival of lights, was not very well known across the world, but greatly celebrated by all Indians no matter where they lived. By and by, the number of Indian folks in other countries grew, and even started having some influence there. Which probably explains, why, George W Bush even sends "Divali Greetings" in his speeches, to Asian Indians (maybe most of them Republican) around this time.

Today, along with the globalization of Divali, India is now firmly entrenched in what may be called the Mall culture; in most metro cities , you get junk mail announcing all kinds of sales, of basically clothes and electronic items. For Divali only......

And thousands of paper-and-plastic-endowed folks rush to grab whatever they can. Clothes and utility machines have stopped being a need. You now need to dress, to be fashionably casual as you disdainfully drop your dirty clothes into a washing machine that thinks fuzzily, and angrily rumbles and whirls, as you settle down to watch a DVD on a flat screen contraption , that covers half your wall, and never mind that you have no place for bookshelves.

I was examining a contraption that we use to make something called Chakli, when I suddenly realized that the disc at the end of the rod (that got inserted in a cylindrical holder), had got separated. It wasn't something that got fixed with a nut and screw, so I took it to the nearest utensil shop. In a nouveau-riche moment, they said they didn't do such repairs.

And so I landed up at the shop belonging to Hites(h). The second H , silent.

Hitesh never went to school. But went trailing after his father who was a old-newspaper-dealer (" raddiwala") here. These guys bought old newspapers from you and marketed them to those needing them, like paper mills, packaging folks and stuff. His father also bought old appliances, ramshackle furniture, old watches etc from folks. Mostly non working.

And young Hitesh spent his growing years fiddling around with these things and developing a unique technological perspective on things. His father's shop was in the path of the new arterial road, and the municipal compensation allowed them to get a slightly larger shop elsewhere. Hitesh started out with a shop dedicated to repair of pressure cookers. Slowly the paper trade reduced, and today, his shop is always crowded, as women throng there with various non functioning blenders,food processors,ovens, stoves. In addition, he always stocked a huge supply of what could be called generic,nonbranded items of household use.

It was amazing to observe how things worked. He had an endless supply of all kinds of spares stocked in faded plastic containers, all around the shop. No doubt manufactured by innovative folks with still more innovative machines, and a fine sense of what fits where, somewhere in the hinterland. It didn't matter to Hitesh, if you came in with a GE, a Westinghouse, and Oster, a Kenstar or a flourishing local brand. It didn't matter if you arrived wearing chiffon in a chauffeur driven car , or huffing and puffing after a tangle with a crowd in a municipal bus.

He treated everyone with the same courtesy. The assumption was that it would be repaired.

There wasn't any token or queue system here. You sort of appeared at his shop. Regardless of a throng, his alert eyes noticed a new comer, and asked what the problem was. He nodded, asking about it, simultaneously plugging in someone else's electrical item to check continuity, and nodding to an assistant who was confirming some money ,to be paid back to someone else; in a fine display of multitasking that should have him giving seminars at B-schools.

I appeared with my very simplistic, non fashionable, no-name,mechanical, small contraption amidst all these power-items. Waited for the crowd to thin a bit. Hitesh appreciated that.

There was another family left, an old lady with her recently married daughter. They were looking at blenders. He told them the price and the old lady's face fell. They were speaking in a language different from mine, but such is the effect of Mumbai, that you end up understanding whats being said regardless. The lady was looking for something to be presented to her daughter's in-laws.

At this point it needs to be explained that in India, Divali and in-laws are kind of connected. The married daughter's first Divali at her in laws is a BIG thing. Her folks give presents. And despite legislation, social movements, et al, parents consider it very important that a decent gift is given.

There was some explanation going on. The old lady, putting aside her own pride explained the circumstances to Hitesh. Her daughter, confused and distraught, stood by, with a covered head. Her father was scheduled to have some surgery and they had set aside money for it. They would only be able to pay for this blender in installments. Maybe he should show them a cheaper variety, they said.

Hitesh nodded. More to himself, as if he just decided something. Amidst all those grayish containers filled with nuts, screws,washers,pins,rings etc of various sizes,makes, and colors, he climbed on something to drag down a packing box. Put the blender inside.

" You take this, Mother. " he said. And got busy with the contraption I had brought in.

The old lady shook her head trying to explain. Her eyes welled up. Her daughter put a comforting arm around her shoulders. The old lady opened her cotton bag which held her traditional embroidered money purse. Started counting out fifty rupee notes of which she would need at least twenty, if not more. Her hands shook. The surgery would have to wait. ....

"Did I ask you for the money, ma ? You can pay me next month. Its Ok. "

The proud lady was in tears. Hitesh pretended to be absorbed in finding some spare part for some item below the counter.

" Look, ma. Leave your address here. If you are too busy, give me a call, and I will come and collect the amount next month. Your Divali is my Divali. So take this blender which you have liked, and have a grand first Divali for your daughter and son-in-law. "

The details recorded,their faces confirming the existence of Someone-Up-There-Looking-Out-For-Them, the lady and her daughter left, a smile in their full eyes, and both carrying the biggish box.

Hitesh was doing something to the Chakli contraption and had a sad smile on his face.

" See, I don't have a sister. My mother passed away several years ago. And I am so busy in the shop, I almost never celebrate a proper Divali. ". He got out some pliers, and pulled out a pin from somewhere that was holding things from functioning properly.

" I just decided on the spur of the moment, that this mother's and daughter's Divali would be my own. I would have done the same for my sister if I had one." He got out a hammer and gently hammered something into place , after checking the positioning.

Handing me the chakli machine, now working, he said " Its no big deal. My job is to do my work, honestly, and to the best of my ability. "Baki sab Uparwala deta hai " (Everything else is given to us by Someone Up There)...

Divali is yet a week away. My machine has been repaired by Hitesh. I will probably spend the next week, making all the usual savouries, sending cards, making last minute repairs to something that needs to be worn by my daughter, on a specific day....... Folks will visit us, lamps will be lit, rangolis drawn on the floor.

Something tells me I have left something out.

Divali is all about being Hites(h). The second h, silent. And all of him, silently telling us what the festival is all about.


  1. Your journal is so interesting to this lady from the South in the USA
    My son who lives across the street from me is familar somewhat with your part of the world. I sent him your site.
    He lives part time in Thailand.
    Blessings to you this day.

  2. good post as usual well written. I sure would love to meet Hites(h)!!!

  3. This is such a heartwarming story. I am so glad to know there are still decent, loving, giving people in this world that do not work for just the almighty dollar. We could sure use more Hiteshs today than what we have. Thanks for a very interesting post.

  4. You have summed up well. I agree. Diwali is indeed all about being Hitesh!
    The story is straight from the heart, and when we read it, that's where it scores a hit!

  5. Your stories are indeed heartwarming and beautiful to read. It is always so beautiful to read of one human's kindness and gentleness to another. It gives one hope for the future and for mankind. Happy Diwali!

  6. Brought a lump in my throat. Though i had started reading the article with a twinkle in my eye as I read "hitesh with a silent h" the end was really teary eyed. We have truly lost the meaning of diwali which should all be about fun and love and family getting together. Its more like a burden where the gifts have to exchanged.

    I wish hitesh could read your article. If you could share his store address I would certainly drop him a line and applaud him.


  7. That was a really interesting post and it seems its the same all over the world isnt it? It is very hard to now find the good honest repairmen who will not try and upsell you something very expensive. I loved this line you used, 'In a nouveau-riche moment, they said they didn't do such repairs'. that is a classic!

    I would love to find out some more about some of the food you will be enjoying during your festival. thanks for sharing, its very interesting. Also, my father laughed a great deal over your cricket post. By the way you could have been writing about Australia during our summer ciricket season too! Thanks again for sending it to him.

  8. Dear Madam,

    As usual a brilliant article. What can I say except thanks for bringing out the spirit of diwali and re-enforcing it in our minds with a new perspective.

    I stopped bursting crackers when I was in the 8th std. but since that time I have never thought of donating that money wasted on crackers to some institution taking care of the under privileged. I shall do so this Diwali.

  9. One Woman's journey Thank you for sending my site to your son. I would be interested in his comments given that he has stayed in our part of the world.....

    Ranu Thank you. happy Diwali

    Judy Thank you. In all the commercial hype surrounding festivals , it certainly strengthens ones faith in humanity to come across a Hites(h) once in a while....makes a good change from guys running off with millions of dollars a la lehman bros etc...

    Vivek In today's world it is SO difficult to remain with your feet firmly anchored in the ground, as they say. Someone like Hitesh is required to shake us out of our fantasy/giftladen/money-centric lives. Happy Diwali..

    Sylvia K Thank you and Happy Diwali indeed....

    Vinita Thank you & Happy Diwali. There are many Hites(h)'s around us. But do we have the time to notice ?

    Lilly Thank you. If you see the list of "blogs that I read often" in my sidebar, and click on the last one , it shows a lot of our Diwali festival food. Needless to say, eating it is greatly anticipated.

    And I am so pleased that your Dad enjoyed the cricket blog. The Aus-Ind second test is on its last day today, and great excitement around. I think the tests will also be on vacation during Divali.

    Ganesh One of the most wonderful things one can do in Divali is to donate and help those who have no one to call their own. I am amazed to know that you stopped the crackers in std 8. The thing most folks do not realize is that such acts are not an end in themselves. Your family grows up with the philosophy of "giving" , and entire generations change their perception of something like Divali. That is a very beneficial thing in our world where everyone is constantly striving for "aur ek"...

    Happy Diwali

  10. such an emotional post ! We need many more Hitesh.So nice gesture, ya, diwali is like this only.
    Why is it that people with lesser means are greater in mind?

  11. Aaah... the heart is in the right place... while i m waiting to go to my home town in diwali and spend time together discussing arguing eating like hell and bursting crackers with an excuse that my son wants to burst them where as its me actually who at 30 is still not content and want to burst more crackers still... Lovely post loved reading it and just realised its bout the small things and small gestures.. Happy diwali...!!!


  13. You have written so touchy & beautiful post. Thanks for sharing Hitesh's story.

    What we try at our home is not to burst crackers or celebrate in very exaggerated way but to visit the orphanage and distribute sweets & crackers there. Not only Diwali we do it on 15h August as well.

    I also liked the way you write title of your posts ... with a touch of Marathi. :-)


  14. Usually, it is the silent ones, that add character. In being silent, yet important. Just like the second H, in Hitesh !

    Well, written !

  15. It is the Hites(h)'s of the world that we run into everyday... yeah and there are truly plenty of them... that remind me the world is not a bad place. It has never been a bad place. It wont ever be a bad place.

    It is just different at every instant but never bad in the over all scheme of things. I celebrate Diwali to celebrate this simple fact and my optimismn.

    Happy Diwali to you, yours, every Hitesh and everyone done a good turn by a Hitesh, sometime, somewhere.

    And how did the chaklis turn out? Khushkhusheet I bet!

    Another Kiran in NYC

  16. Suranga, Sylvia's blog crashed and they told her she had to make a whole new blog. She e-mailed and asked that we let her readers know about this. Her new address is:
    Thanks, Judy

  17. There are very few such people. But worth every word that you have written about Hites(h).

    There are very few people like him. To some it might sound selfish. One might say that he was trying to satisfy his need for a sister and mother and the need to celebrate Diwali.

    But, in being selfish too, he has brought smile and happiness to two poor souls! Kind soul he is!!!

    The factory that I work in has a worker who spend almost 15 hrs in a week doing social work and helping many NGOs. Few others, with much less physical work, are inclined to do that!

  18. What a beautiful story. It is Hites(h) and people like him that keep my faith alive. Thanks for sharing.

  19. renu Thank you & happy Diwali.

    hitch writer Thank you. I had one eyebrow raised till I read about you being 30 with a son old enough to burst crackers . Ah well. happy Divali.

    One Woman's journey Thank you.

    Cuckoo Thank you for your comments. I wish you and hitch writer could meet and exchange notes on Diwali. :-)

    Happy Diwali to you.

    kavi Thank you. Would you believe it, Hites(h) himself probably doesnt know about the silent H. Doesnt need to.

    Another Kiran in NYC Thank you . And yes, the Chaklis turned out great. Am munching some now. :-) Happy Divali to you and yours in the BIg Apple, and may Obama win :-)

    Judy Thanks for the news about Sylvia's blog, and you are certainly doing such a wonderful job informing us, so we can put in her new blog address now. Thanks again.

    Babu Bhaskaran I wouldnt bother with those who think it is selfish of Hites(h) to seek a sister and a mother, and want to celebrate Divali. The need to have a family is a normal need of a human being, and Divali has nothing to do with it. But Divali has everything to do with wanting a newly married sister to be happy in her in-laws house, and Hites(h) realized that. Unfortunately, many people dont.

    Usha Thank you. (I have been lurking and enjoying your blogs for some time now. Delighted to have you comment here. Happy Diwali.)

  20. Wow!! I usually just read all your posts but this one was soooo beautiful, not just in its content but also the lovely way that you've written it, that I just had to let you know that it touched my heart in a way that I got goosebumps on my arms....Heartening to know that people like Hitesh still exist. I thought they'd become extinct!! God bless him!!

  21. BTW, good to know that you live in Mumbai too. So the next time I visit home, maybe we can meet...?

  22. rajk Thank you for the kind words. And sure, send me an email when you next come down to Mumbai and I will be most delighted to see you.(I also think you are somewhere close to UC Berkeley maybe, and it gives me immense hope that I can burden you with something to be taken to UCB :-).... Just kidding.