Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Book for all seasons ....of life !

(Submitted for the My oldest Book and its memories Contest .... at Blogadda)

I don't have to climb and search shelves to find that book. It has made its own special shelf in the library of my mind. And while stuff in the real world is subject to wild handlings and insect attacks, not to mention folks who borrow it and never show their face again, this one sits, fresh as ever, lighting up a corner of my mind.

"Pu. La. Deshpande : ek Saathwan " edited by Jaywant Dalvi. I assume folks understand that this would be in Marathi. An amazing compilation of the works of Pu La, by another wonderful younger but well known author.....

Pu La. as he was affectionately referred to by the masses of Maharashtra, was a person who belonged to the same strata of society as we all did. At least that what's everyone who read him believed. Sometime in my teenage years, I started reading his serialized articles on his Europe and America trip, in one of the leading Marathi magazines. (I still chuckle over them) . Humor was his forte, but so was his knowledge of classical music, and its great personas. He made movies, excelled at the harmonium, revered the great musician artists, adored Tagore, wrote plays, performed amazing one man shows, and they were always about real people, like us. We were always on the lookout for his newer books .

And then sometime in 1979-80, I remember a book being published on his 60th birthday, the above mentioned book. A neat play on the word "SaaTh" साठ which means sixty in Marathi, and the word "SaathwaN" साठवण which means "a collection or live archive." साठवण also means stuff organized for storage and expected to last a long time . Particulary common, in the summers of life , of those whose lives are spent in kitchens....

Certain Marathi publishers (Majestic Book Stall) were like institutions themselves, considered it a great honor to be involved in producing a commemorative book like this, and so we purchased then , for the impressive sum of Rs 25/- only, a specially priced edition of this book. I was just getting set in my job, the house was being set up bit by bit, the family was growing; books hadn't suddenly been priced out of the common man's reach then, and this was a purchase, greatly looked forward to.

I actually went to an English school where the school library had typical English books read by school girls, many classics , and the like. But we lived in a part of Pune which was rich history by itself. My parents actually had an instructor who came in to teach us Sanskrit shlokas and Marathi calligraphy with a reed pen. "Shuddhalekhan" शुद्धलेखन (writing text passages for practice) daily in Marathi was a big thing, regardless of what language your school taught. One of the greatest Marathi novelists was a neighbor and his daughter was my best friend . And so one grew up amidst the excitement of Marathi literature happenings so to speak.

Pu La never really wrote about fantasy. He wrote about "characters; he wrote about situations that we see everyday; thrived on describing situations with middle class ethos, while being a part of it; his observation of personalities was a wonderful mixture of indulgent external trivialities with a solid internal kernel, and made you look for such folks around you.

Who could forget his first description of arriving in London , a first trip by air out of India? Peopleless roads at a cold 9 am, no conversations happening in the bus from the airport, a typical drizzle in progress, shops closed , no crowds hanging around at corners, or loudspeakers announcing unimportant stuff importantly. He wondered if there had been an inauspicious event, say, in the royal family.

He turns, clears his throat and asks his wife quietly in Marathi , "Why is everything so silent?" and gets rewarded by the immediate stares of a few Englishmen in the bus, as if reacting to a loud noise....... (I had similar questions when I first went to the US to study and saw empty roads , many cars, and asked the immortal question , " Where have all the people gone ?" ....). His crackling narration of the British proclivity for discussing the weather, digging in the gardens, and their dogs. His amazement that nobody takes off surreptitiously with milk bottles left outside houses, and his pithy comment on the difference on how Europeans and British spend Sunday mornings ...

His description of a character in Ratnagiri, in Maharashtra's Kokan area , while on a visit to his in-law's place. An old man, a complete institution by himself, Antu Barwa, steeped in the ethos of old folks grown up the hard way, providing you windows and doors into a culture. A personality , as he describes it, studded with properties of the tough red "chira" mountain stone used in houses, rough edged, soft innards blessed jack fruits , tough coconut resilience, and scratchy concerns of colllocassia leaves.

The name Antu (somewhat an abridged thing from the original Ananta) was misleading for a man who sported white hair everywhere, an almost toothless jaw, a firm loyalty to a khadi half lungi wrapped around his middle, a massively repaired, creaking old chappal, and an opinion from everything from why the British left India, levels of corruption, motivations of various freedom fighters, how a son-in-law should conduct himself, and a huge pride in his native town which made him summarily dismiss Shimla , but espouse sleeping in the Coconut and areca nut plantation-shades, as akin to natural airconditioning......

His great proprietary pride during the author's last visit prior to a maiden foreign trip, and the tough old man nodding his head approvingly on learning that the wife would be going along too, saying ," let me tell you a secret; I lost her (my wife) forty years ago, and the mango trees, with earlier harvests of hundreds , have not blossomed after that, till today; you never know which way fate works. But go well, and travel safely ...." and then as an after thought , " Do one thing for me, please. Have a look at the Kohinoor diamond for me , and come back and tell me. If I die , and the subsequent religious events/customs imply unfulfilled wishes, just stand there and say "Kohinoor, Kohinoor," and everything will be fine . Don't forget to see Paris too... "

And he finally appears , at 5 am at the local bus stand, and calls out and rushes in with a small paper packet , containing the vibhuti of the local deity. "For your protection". Waves goodbye, standing with the author's extended family, and quietly lifts his old traditional shirt to wipe his old sunken eyes. His more than flat concavity of the abdomen, pulls at the author's heartstrings.

There are other vignettes of someone who can only be described as the King of all Man-Fridays, where weddings are concerned, "Narayan"; and a completely urban centric, western mindset hinting personality that haunts you with its story, Nanda Pradhan. Travelogues in Japan, Bali, France, the US, with pithy self depreciating very observant comments.

Gods , in Pu La's books are very human. The inside cover leaf of this book, has a couplet he found at, and included, on a write up of a Panwala , that would possibly have made Lord Krishna smile :

कृष्ण चालले वैकुन्ठाला , राधा विनवी पकडून बाही ,
इथे तमाखू खाउनी घे रे , तिथे कन्हैय्या तमाखू नाही .....

(Lord Krishna , is on his way to Vaikunth (the abode of Vishnu), and Radha tugs at his sleeve , and implores him , " Have your fill of tobacco here , dear, 'cause there aint any tobacco at Vaikunth...." )

So many brilliant portraits of so many "ordinary" personalities, all with their good and bad quirks, descriptions of situations , localities, and the sociological pictures of bygone days. Spell binding travelogues of trips to so many countries. Stories of meeting great people.

Every time I pull out this book to read , I appreciate something new. As a young girl, and then someone starting a household, I laughed at different things. As someone slowly about to traverse a senior peak, there is an element of looking back and enjoying a nostalgic evening as one closes the book, smiling away, albeit with full eyes.

This book has so many heart rending, chuckle producing, guffaw inducing, head nodding descriptions of life. Like a beautiful outfit , with that significant little tear in a crucial place; a joyful dress with a frill of sadness. Gives a new meaning to the phrase "laugh till you cry".......

Way up in a cupboard, in my in-law's house, are some very old books. Some ancient Marathi classics, some very popular authors. Carefully covered in brown paper, sitting cheek by jowl with some books in praise of various deities, with the associated prayers and religious verses. For those born at beginning of the 20th century, education was a great privilege, particularly if you were a female. And so classics and books were very carefully and lovingly preserved, and read often.

Somewhere , in a shelf, long after I am gone, I hope this book remains, possibly dogeared, but proudly sitting. Despite the e-fication and miniaturization of everything, I hope someone pushes that laptop aside, removes those buds from the ears, and sits in an armchair with this great book, on a monsoon evening, with a nice cup of tea, and gets lost in the wonderful word , that I have been fortunate to enjoy.

Times have changed. The author is no more, after a lifetime dedicated to making people happy , with words , music, and something that few only may know : a dedication to helping those trying to emerge from drug and alcohol addiction, something for which he and his wife made immense financial and artistic contributions. Pu La wrote about and appreciated literature in other languages, was a Sahitya Academy awardee, and honored as a director of the NCPA in Mumbai ....

This book lives for me. I never tire of pulling it out and reading something from it. It lights up the sort of society I grew up in. It sometimes reminds me of my grandparents, sometimes my parents, and sometimes I am steeped in the entire ethos of the bygone days, when the printed word was supreme, and there was no DEL key.

My children, who never really had read him, but have seen us chuckle and crack up, watch his performances again and again on DVD's that are now available.

Their laptop hard disks, containing these mega collections, don't feel the weight at all ; thanks to the incredible lightness of being the brilliant performances of an unforgettable Pu La.

Truly a Sathwan साठवण !

Edited to add : So many have asked if there are English translations. Those wishing to read a wonderful translation of "Chitale Master ( चितळे मास्तर )" , from the award winning book "Vyakti ani Valli (व्यक्ती आणि वल्ली )" which won the Sahitya Academy Award, may read

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thinning Bones and thick heads...

The country and I belong to the same generation. Folks in their sizzling sixties. Been there , done that, kind of people. And so I am always looking out for similarities on what occurs in my life as well as in the country's , and try to ascertain recognizable patterns.

One of the things that one has undergone in the last year or so, is complete onslaught on the Bone system of the body, and its connective stuff.

Which would really surprise you if you knew, that ever since I was born, assorted folks who came by to hold and coo to me as a baby, were known to have remarked on how heavy I was. Later in school, the PT teacher who supervised our physicals, would check my weight twice, because it didn't fit in , and was high, compared with my normal build and agility in sports then.

Many years later, in my fifties, a friend who was a well respected scientist and researcher involved in doing some research on bone densities of urban Indian women announced that she was looking for cases to check bone densities and do followups and so on, and she had a big laugh when I offered myself as a candidate.

My sole interest was a free bone density test . Her sole interest was helping those with low bone densities .

And so it goes without saying that I kind of sailed into my sixties, dense in bone as well as , as it turned out, thinking.

Its very fashionable these days to be aware of menopause. While its fashionable to talk about wrinkles, cranky/cribbing/anxious behaviour, and estrogen making a graceful withdrawal causing hot flushes or whatever, what caught my attention was this business of thinning bones.

I thought I had such a built in advantage, that thinning would never be a part of my skeletal life.

Life has a way of teaching you. And the Internet has a way of explaining things to you.

In the last 2 years, most of my bones /ligaments etc , barring the skull, pelvis, and the big limb bones , have started showing their evil side.

It started with the left little toe which fractured itself banging somewhere, followed by the right little toe a fortnight later in the US of A. Then a few months later, the left shoulder (resulted in an MRI blog post), cervical vertebra (neck level), then the lower back (another post), then the right shoulder (resulting in a sling and another blog post ), again the lower back (and a philosophical post).

The latest is another small toe fracture, which has ended up cracking up some other support structures, and the entire thing is now bound firmly for 3 weeks, making it impossible to limp across the newly widened arterial road outside in the allocated time while shopping for veggies and stuff. Skates as an idea was rejected firmly by some folks, who were concerned about creating potholes on the new road , if I fell.

Turns out that our blood always contains some "mediators" called chemokines or chemoattractants. These things arrange for various signals and stuff, which tell various receptors to go sit in various tissues of the body, like our bones.

The same blood also contains cells that help bone regeneration (osteoblasts), and cells that destroy bone (osteoclasts). Typically, the osteoclasts are yet immature, but are "recruited" by these chemokines, and made to go sit on the bone tissue and mature. After maturity, they start chipping away at your bones, thinning them.

This has an amazing parallel with immature , easily impressionable folks with evil intentions lurking in our society, and they being recruited by appointed messenger types steeped in politics, corruption and violence. The messenger types get these types well established somewhere where they do their destruction work.

You see, as a young girl, these things were not so prevalent in the society around me. Quite simply, the percentage of folks who worried about scruples was fairly large . You trusted people to behave in a certain way. The majority of folks had similar ethical and moral standards, regardless of their economic situation in life.

Like me, the country is now in the 60's and suffering from violence flashes, thinning of its august institutions, where assorted unscrupulous and shameless messenger types have installed , what can only be called "People-clasts", or folks who can be bought for a price.

A national menopause.

Right from the ticket counter clerk at the railway reservation window, to the so called peoples' leaders, , everyone has become a "peopleclast ", eating away at the fabric of the country's life. We have more and more accidents thanks to blind eyes being turned to things, more lives destroyed, more wastage , wild consumption and so on.

It turns out that Ronald Germain, M.D., Ph.D., at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health. and Masaru Ishii, M.D., Ph.D., a Visiting Fellow from Japan, have researched this .

They homed in on a blood messenger called S1P, which was the instigator of the recruitment of immature osteoclasts. And they did experiments to show that if you had receptor cells on your bones that recognized this blood messenger S1P , then you could blindly draw away into the blood, those immature osteoclasts accumulating at your bones, and save the bones, from future destruction.

They ,of course, did experiments with live mice, and using a unique imaging technique, the researchers could see immature osteoclasts migrating away from the bones of the mice in response to S1P in the blood. Mice with functional S1P receptors had denser bones than mice lacking functional S1P receptors.

We need similar S1P types in society. To give hope, to the misguided young and old destroyers, of decent society. The above experimenters even tested a synthetic version of the S1P and found it worked.

Maybe at an age of 63, it is not too late for us as a country, to come up with some inspired well trained S1P's to build up the confidence and good standards in the way we function in this country, and stop our great institutions from being eaten away by the corrupt people-clasts.

But the real puzzle comes later.

The researchers say that they tested a mouse model of postmenopausal osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), to see if adding a synthetic S1P activator, could help preserve bone. Postmenopausal mice who were given that, had fewer immature osteoclasts on their bones and greater bone density when compared with untreated postmenopausal mice.

I know why my bones are behaving the way they do in my menopausal age.

I realize how physiology can teach so much to us as a menopausal nation. And that we need to look for S1P's of our own to change. Be the change we want to be.....

But Yikes ! I didn't realize the mice could have menopause ............

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bigg Boss in the service of the Nation

It has occurred to me, an ordinary commoner, disgusted with the handling of corruption in the country, that some innovative solutions need to be looked at. And not all of the solutions, can be found in things like retired justices of Supreme Courts/High Courts, Joint Parliamentary Committees, Interlocutors etc etc.

It has also occurred to me, a stupid commoner, that the best way to nab a corrupt person, is to set another person with corrupt tendencies to catch him/her. Which should make for a very very interesting show given the rules.

The thing to do is to announce a special Bigg Boss season immediately. The rules of the Bigg Boss show allow a special house with many rooms to sit around and yak away, but just very few bedrooms and bathrooms. The rule says you must speak in Hindi, which throws up very interesting possibilities of candidate selection. Since you are not allowed to leave for any reason, and maintain outside contact, this will be more secure than those who sit in various different custodies of the law , police,judicial etc etc. And the best part, is that someone like the High Command, hitherto called the Bigg Boss, appears only as a voice that does individual interviews , asks for opinions , and finally issues its own edicts about who to throw out.

Main contenders for entry into the house would be Suresh Kalmadi, Sheila Dikshit, Sudhhanshu Mittal, Lalu Prasad Yadav, A. Raja of the DMK, Mayawati, Ashok Chavan, his ma-in-law (who he deleted as a relative), Raj Thakre, Jayalalithaa, Uddhav Thakre, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Ex Mumbai commissioner Jairaj Phatak, Sushama Swaraj. Various mothers-in-law, daughters , sons, can be added on later as and how required.

While the insistence on Hindi in the Big Boss house constructed in Panvel, Maharashtra, would make for interesting events with the Thakres inside, It will be interesting to see Kalmadi and Lalu bonding over crunches at the gym inside, with A Raja, urging Jayalailthaa to try the treadmill , and she giving him a distrustful look and checking out the speed setting.

Bathrooms, as per slightly older political history have often served as places to store the loot in secret compartments in the walls. Given the paucity of bathrooms in the Bigg Boss house, interesting conclusions can be reached by timing everyone's usage of the same, and the conditions of the walls.

While Sheila Dikshit, Sushama Swaraj, might bond at the kitchen counter , it would be interesting to see if Mayawati agrees to the Manuvadi idlis that JayaLalithaa might prepare. A Raja, uncharacteristically , a bit careful after his resignation, might watch Mayawati for any ill effects of the idli, before trying some himself, simply out of a sense of homesickness, though the possibilities of him enjoying Lucknow cuisine with Sheila Dikshit cannot be denied.

Lalu will be found sitting out in the sunniest part of the house, bare chested , feet up, on a chair, chewing away on his thoughts, as he tries to impress upon Suresh Kalmadi the need to include his son and heir Tejaswi Yadav in the Indian Olympic Committee, so he can learn from the bosses. Every time one of the Thakres ambles by , he will smile and wave, while spouting invective about communal forces. Ashok Chavan's mother-in-law will try and inch closer to Sudhanshu Mittal , thinking that only a tent supplier can now provide her a roof over her head, so cruelly denied to her , by fellows like Vilasrao Deshmukh, out to get her son-in-law, Ashok.

Since no outside contact is allowed, it will illuminating to see how the inmates appear to outsiders watching the serial. Possibilities of hundreds of Bihar and UP politicians watching for secret signs from their leaders cannot be denied. Something like, a scratching of the knee and spitting to the right by Lalu Prasad being a sign that folks needed to look in the lowest shelf of the cupboard to the right of the party office door in Patna. Or Kalmadi , waving his hands around to signify a helicopter, something to be kept ready for escape once he is out. A Raja, depressed at being away from his Relia-ble cronies, will be seen ensconced in a deep sofa, as if twice the gravitational force , 2G was in operation, and wondering if he got out just in time before 3G started acting.

Raj Thakre will practice his speeches in Marathi, with only Uddhav , Kalmadi, Ashok Chavan, Vilasrao Deshmukh and Jairaj Phatak for audience, since the rest won't understand. Mayawati will try and attend , in her effort to learn Marathi , and woo the Marathi Manoos in the next election.

The Big Boss , will actually be a lady. Aloof, up there, and with informers amongst the inmates. She will interview each inmate to get his or her opinion about the others, so that they can decide who and how many to evict. At the end of the day, she will listen to her "own conscience", pull some wool over her own eyes, and reach her conclusions with the help of her son, who has sneaked in as part of her security.

The nice thing is that all the hitherto corrupt types will be together in custody , keeping a keen eye on each other, and watched at all times by the nation, in the Bigg Boss house. They will eventually expose each other. And instead of spending on the various committees & investigations, you will actually have sponsors falling over each other to pay for this broadcast. As Obama is fond of saying, a win-win solution.

In the meanwhile, latest reports have indicated that Pamela Anderson of Hollywood and Baywatch fame, (where she does a 100 metre sprint into the ocean clad in a swimsuit of uneven proportions, chased by lifeguards) , was seen entering Bigg Boss house .

Sushama Swaraj was seen pursing her lips and shaking her head, Sheila Dikshit closed her eyes, Mayawati stood still as a statue, and while Lalu, Raja, the Thakres, the ex chief ministers, Suddhnashu Mittal, and the ex mumbai commisioner stood open mouthed and staring, Jayalalithaa was seen removing her voluminous cape, and rushing to cover Pamela Anderson with it.....

Further news is awaited...

Edited to add : I dont watch this show, and have simply observed it in the process of surfing channels. But Wikipedia mentions all the rules. While the recent government (nov 17th) rule about not broadcasting it in prime time, and relegating it to 11 pm slots is very welcome, in the above situation, it will simply serve to keep all the worthies out of public view : a typical quick way to get the stuff out of the public's what's new ...?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Divali for the Soul

This post highlighted by Global Voices - The world is talking, are you listening?

As Divali , our Festival of Lights, gets under way, the media is full of news about either the Adarsh building scam(where powerful types, and those related to them awarded themselves apartment(s) by creative interpretation, planned ignorance of rules, and stupid bravado), corruption detected in one more big case somewhere, and of course Obama's impending trip this weekend , for which it looks like 10% of the US Government is moving here with their paraphernalia, while residents of areas where he will visit , like the Mahatma Gandhi museum, have been asked, for security reasons, to keep their windows closed when he visits.

Away from all this hype, however, there are several folks who exist, seemingly to ensure, that they bring a daily "Divali" into some one's life. They never get publicized or appear on breaking or non breaking news, but their story needs to be told, to get the citizenry to believe, that Divali is much more than stuffing yourself with sweets, buying a bigger flat television, or a new cell phone that talks and tells you that it is time to recharge.

We've been going to this orphanage each Divali. For many many years. As our thanksgiving gesture and to play with and distribute Divali sweets to the children. Right from when they were an organization that started out of a 3 bedroom apartment taken on rent, which they were later on able to buy with the help of some generous donors. They had some really dedicated staff then almost 20 years ago, and barring those who time has claimed, almost all are there today.

Unlike the impression one gets from reading newspapers, there are strict rules about running orphanages, enjoying government aid and grants , submitting so many different types of reports, financial and otherwise , and subjecting themselves to inspections from the authorities. Those who have nothing to hide, comply with all this, and do well. Those that don't, are the ones that appear in newspapers, and then face the law.

When it looked like the original place was going to be too small, the authorities of the orphanage decided to raise funds for a building and approached everyone , including the government for help. Several donors , numerous ordinary middle class folks , some socially conscious industries, some from overseas, Indians , who dedicatedly gave of themselves on a yearly basis, helped in a major way. Several years of fundraising later, they now have a building to call their own, the entrance to which takes you, ironically, through the compound of a local police constabulary/office and a municipal hospital for women and children.

They now house children of various ages, right from newborns in cradles, to girls approaching teenage who have no one to call their own.

When we reached their office, there was s flurry of activity, with lots of office staff (all women) getting the Annual report ready for dispatch, alphabetically. The report is a legal requirement and it is a wonderful read , besides the mandatory accounting things, about the adoption activities, the sucesses of some kids, the problems of the organization we can help with, and so on. There were some enthusiastic young girls helping them with putting pre-printed address labels and plastic covers. Turns out they were young orphan girls who lived there and went to school. After a while they rushed away with some other girls, apparently because it was lunchtime.

Various activities in progress as went went around meeting, playing with and distributing sweets to the children. There were absolute newborns in cradles, fast asleep, oblivious to anything including Divali. Another room had the very young kids, some crawlers, and some who could walk; boys as well as girls. We took the permission of the lady there to distribute sweets. She smiled and said each one could have one, and holding out a full box was not a good idea at that moment, as lunch time was imminent. We agreed to abide by that.

My daughter who loves doing this went in their midst and was mobbed. She shared the sweets with them, and then handed the box to the lady saying she would be distributing later after lunch. The slightly older kids were playing in another room also enjoyed the sweets . Banging plastic cricket bats against crackling balls. A little girl kept running after a ball after a hero hit a "boundary" wall, but the batsmen himself reached before her, picked up the ball and gave her a look. They then got my daughter involved and she bowled a few balls to the future cricketers of India. Year after year the thing that stays in my mind has been the cheerfulness of these kids, every single time.

Their own kitchen serves wholesome homestyle food to all the children. The very little ones are fed , and those who can eat on their own, sit along with the others, automatically picking up stuff like finishing everything on the plate, taking their empty plate to the big sink, and piling it neatly there. They have older volunteer folks who come in on a regular basis to tell stories to groups of children. Sometimes wellwishers organize picnics for the kids, with a bus, and games and eats. Many local industries donate useful consumer products they make. And the kids get excellent medical care from the many doctors who offer their services .

We soon had to leave, because there were lots of visitors that day. So many people coming by with new clothes, provisions, toys, eats, books and what have you for the kids. And cheques. So many folks who celebrated Divali by giving, their own Joy-of-Giving week.....

Intelligent future planning in the design of premises has enabled the organization, to start physiotherapy at reasonable fees for those children in need. (see the video on their web page.) Special educators, speech and occupational therapists come every day. There is a counselling section for parents of such children, and a support group of sorts. They have a computer training section where useful basic computer skills and software are taught to young women at a nominal cost, to enable them to take up freelance work and or jobs. You can have a look at all their activities here under the Projects drop down menu..

Confidence in organization building has enabled this organization to also start an Old Age home in Navi Mumbai, along with a home for destitute young women, or women from families with domestic and monetary problems. The women are trained in different courses and skills, so that they have an incentive to work as adults. They have some wonderful schemes where you can help, and bring a wondrous change in a young woman's future.

I often feel we do not highlight such good work enough. The press highlights only the "takers" in society, and very rarely, the quiet "givers".

I thought this Divali was a good time to do this.

So we can believe that good also exists.

And hopefully realize that life isn't all about corrupt politicians and money and land grabbers. And buying the latest HDTV/cellphone/washing machine paying full price, while planning on giving donations in installments.

Its about bringing rays of light into some lives. Not just at festival time, but every day.....

Happy Divali .....

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