x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Diwali candles shed light on the blind

Indu Swaraj has come to the bazaar in Delhi every year since it began 26 years ago at the start of Dwali, India's festival of lights.

Som Raj,42, though blind makes candles behind the scenes at the bazaar of The Blind Relief Association in New Delhi, India. Simon De Trey-White for The National
Som Raj,42, though blind makes candles behind the scenes at the bazaar of The Blind Relief Association in New Delhi, India. Simon De Trey-White for The National

NEW DELHI // A bazaar filled with candles and crafts made by the blind has become a favoured destination for shoppers who want their purchases to have special meaning during Dwali, India's festival of lights.

Indu Swaraj has come to the bazaar in Delhi every year since it began 26 years ago and considers her visit as the symbolic start of the holiday season.

"My mother introduced me to this tradition and I plan on passing it on to my daughters," said Mrs Swaraj, 35, a mother of two.

Kalyani Majumdar, 45, bought a dozen candles, pottery, 200 diyas, and dried decorative flowers during her first visit on Monday.

"There are lots of organisations that host these events, where they sell similar things but this is an institution and everything about them is heartwarming. Nothing will feel nicer than knowing my house was decorated by a noble cause," she said.

The Blind Relief Association of Delhi employs 20 sightless teachers who teach at the association's campus and another five people who work in the crafts section. It specialises in the traditional diyas, or candle and oil earthenware lamps, that sit in windows in Indian households.

"This is a Delhi institution. Everyone knows about it," said Padam Chand Mehta, the group's deputy executive secretary.

Demand is high. Every year the organisation makes 500,000 diyas and 100,000 to 150,000 candles, said Shiv Kumar Misra, one of the organisation's trustees. Over the years, it has added handmade paper gift bags, wrapping paper and incense to its shelves.

But it's the candles for Diwali that are the most popular.

Harish Kumar, 40, has been making candles since 1984. Everything is done by touch. He whittles the candles down, checking their length against a master copy. He then trims the wicks and packs them in crates.

Som Raj, 50, and Raj Kumar, 52, work together. Raj Kumar strings the candle moulds and puts them to his right side. Mr Raj reaches for them, fills them with wax from a tin mug and sets them aside to set for an hour, before dipping them in water and removing them from the mould. He then neatly stacks them in milk crates.

Mr Kumar began working at the association in 1980 and Mr Raj started 14 years ago.

"Som is the talker," said Mr Kumar. "He has a good sense of humour, but sometimes he just talks and talks, and I just say, yes, yes."

Shopping for Diwali, which begins next week, is a special skill in India and is handed down from mother to daughter. "My mother said if I must learn the ropes of how to shop for Diwali, this was the best place to start," said Sara Bhatt, 19, a second-year fine arts student, watching her mother browse the selections.

"I am watching how she picks and chooses what she does. How she thinks of where a decoration should go," said Ms Bhatt, who had her eye on some wrapping paper embellished with gold and silver. "I really like the prints on the handmade paper."

Mrs Swaraj had brought her daughters to the bazaar to have them experience the tradition and show them that the festival was also about charity. As she picked up a clay lamp in the shape of camel, she said: "This is to set an example for the children, that you can have tradition with a touch of fun."

 

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae