“What’s wrong with you?” I said to my gardener last week as he stood with a crestfallen face before me. “Now you want money for Diwali, then your wife will want to buy new clothes during Christmas and finally you’ll ask me for a big advance for New Year!”
“I am sorry sir,” said my middle aged gardener, the wet mud still fresh on his hands and the smell of manure clinging onto him.
“Sorry for what?” I asked crossly, “Sorry for so many festivals or sorry for asking me for money? Why don’t you save your salary and buy useful things for the house like a pressure cooker, a gas stove, maybe even a refrigerator.”
“Sir,” said the poor man, “can you come with me to my home right now?”
“Okay,” I said eager to see where he lived so I could haul him up, if he ever took leave. “Go ahead, I will follow you.”
We walked through the shaded avenues of the bungalows and posh buildings. I followed him, quite happy for the exercise but slowly beginning to sweat, till he suddenly took a turn into a small gully which I never even knew existed. The gully seemed to climb like a serpent up a huge hill.
“Hey,” I shouted, “are we going trekking?” The man did not answer. Not a bush or a tree grew on the hill. There was no space for them, as every inch was crowded in by a tin shanty or mud hut. It was the biggest slum I had ever seen in my life. Naked children ran about all over, chased by busy flies. I held my nose and walked, the smell that surrounded me could have been used instead of anaesthesia to knock me out.
Pipelines ran through gutters and out again. The gutters ran into huts and were too choked to go out again.
“Sir,” said the gardener, bending low to enter a thatched hut, “this where I live.”
I followed him and looked around. There was no place for a fridge and if there was, there was no electricity to run it. There was hardly any place for a pressure cooker. Three children ran all around me, as delighted as their mother.
“What are they so happy about?” I asked, looking with distaste at the dirt and the squalor.
“It’s Diwali sir, there is so much to be happy about. Listen to the sound of crackers, see the fireworks, and divas and taste our simple sweets, all spreading joy around,” said his pretty little wife happily.
I smiled as I looked at her and her three children. I smiled again as I looked at her happy husband.
In India we needed our festivals, I realized. It was sunshine that kept everybody going.
“Okay,” I told the gardener, “you can have your advance and there’s a bonus for you at Christmas!”
There were tears in my eyes as I saw sunshine in his..!