5 years ago, Rani and her friend Manimala organized a Deepavali Celebration in their neighbourhood. They cooked up a biryani feast and kept their guests entertained with various party activities. It was a significant achievement that they were very proud of because they pulled it off without having deep pockets. All they had was a desire to celebrate the Festival of Lights with neighbours from different religious and cultural backgrounds. “There were regular Hari Raya and Chinese New Year Celebrations in our community so we thought the neighbours should also experience the joy of Deepavali,” they said beaming with ethnic pride.
Rani and Manimala’s enthusiasm attracted much goodwill and their initial celebration in 2016 has become an annual affair fully funded by the Indian community within the neighourhood that they have rallied. This year because of the restrictions on gatherings, there is no party but the briyani and festive delicacies will be delivered to neighbours door to door.
Like Rani and Manimala, many of our members are capable of much leadership and initiative. Many offer their time and energy as volunteers, organising food drops, learning activities and care for children. They do so despite their lack of material resources and their personal and family challenges. These people come across as stoic, rugged, and resilient and are often celebrated as role models by social services and non-government organisations like us.
Building on what people can do rather than what they cannot is only sensible, but we must guard against minimising their challenges and their lack of resources as a result. We must be honest that success stories are the exception and not be lulled into thinking that our structures and systems are not in any way impediments for the well-being of the less fortunate among us.
So, as we see our members as leading lights in their community, we would do well to note that a light shines brightest in the dark. With due respect to their best intentions, we must watch out for those who step forward to assist others despite their own slew of challenges. Perhaps the light they bring to others also helps brighten the dim in their own space. While their generosity of spirit is commendable, we have a responsibility to ensure they do not burn out fast.
Light over darkness is perhaps not an absolute goal as it is light in the presence of darkest that makes for the special moments in our lives, giving us strength, purpose, happiness, and a sense of community. May we always have a light when we need it most. Happy Festival of Lights.
“However men try to reach me, I return their love with my love; whatever path they may travel, it leads to me in the end.” – Bhagavad Gita