Lighting lives of underprivileged

Carrying the flame to take it forward

Atul Pandya with underprivileged people.

The year was 2014 and being a month of November, most of the houses in Vadodara were all decked up with lights of various shapes and sizes. The Pandya household was no different. However, a thought crossed mind of Arti Pandya and she simply shared her thought with her husband Atul.

“We have spent over three decades together and spent all our Deepavalis within our close-knit family. This year, why not light up darkness for others, of unknown people who cannot do so for want of money.”

It is this simple sentence that has turned the lives of Pandya household, forever.

Without much thought, Arti and Atul drove down to a studio in the city and got an audio clip prepared. The audio clip was a plea to citizens of Vadodara to lend a helping hand.

“We said that we need your help to light lamps in 500 houses that won’t be able to celebrate Deepavali that year. We requested for donations of sweets and savouries that we normally enjoy with our families. We asked for good quality sweets, old utensils and clothes that are not in daily use. We shared the clip on social media and it so happened that it went viral and we began getting calls not just from locals or from across the country but from many countries across America, Africa, Australia and Asia,” says 52-year-old Atul Pandya.

In fact, many Samaritans from abroad wanted to transfer funds to Pandyas. However, Pandyas had decided that they would never deal in cash for their work. So they politely turned down their request. But this did not deter those living outside Indian shores. They simply called up their friends and relatives back home and ensured that their contribution reached Pandyas. “We collected and distributed kits containing sweets, savouries and crackers to over 3,000 families that year. The other thing that happened was that as many as 16 persons landed at our doors, willing to volunteer and help us with door-to-door collection of gifts from those who wanted to share but did not have time or know of place to do so,” Atul says.

Since, this motley congregation of volunteers and Pandyas formed a group–Aao Deep Jalaye–to take forward their passion for “sharing” good fortune with those who are not so privileged. All of them are working professionals in the age group of 38 years to 60 years.

While Atul is an HR professional, another one is an operational manager in an ice-cream factory, one with auto firm, couple of others work with state transport corporation as officials and a couple of retired professionals. And all of them are joined in by their spouses. What further cemented their bond was their love for music.

“During interactions, we realised that we had quality singers and musicians amidst us. So we decided why not form a band. We did just that and every weekend, all of us would get together and strum a few strings. Later, we decided that why not share this skill with others and add joy to their lives,” Pandya said.

They began visiting orphanages, old-age homes, leprosy hospitals, facilities for mentally challenged and even central jail to organise musical events. Generally, they plan to wrap up the programme in a couple of hours by singing a few songs.

“Till date we have organised over 75 such programmes but never been able to end any of the function before 3-4 hours, as the inmates or patients invariably end up joining in the chorus and end up singing way beyond time-limit.”

Based on this experience, the group is now getting ready to organise a mega event--Underprivileged voice of Vadodara in coming few months.

Over time, one thing all these men and women have come to realise is that there are a lot of people who want to share their good fortune but are constrained by time and at the same time there are a large number of others who require help but have little knowledge about from where to seek help.

Through Aao Deep Jalaye initiative, this group of Samaritans is merely trying to be the bridge between “privileged” haves and “not so privileged” have-nots.

So other than lighting lives of under privileged in Deepavali and bringing joy by way of music, the group also collects old school bags, pencils, books and even second-hand computers to be distributed among children of parents who can ill-afford to buy them. They also collect kites, threads to fly kites from those willing to share, and distribute it among those who cannot afford them. “We have been collecting and distributing sweets and colours during Holi too. Why not share the joy of festivities with every section of society and that is what we do,” Pandya adds.

With rising mercury levels in the state, the group identified a need to collect pairs of footwear for those who would go barefeet for want of adequate resources to own even one pair.

“So far we have collected and distributed 37,000 pairs to 30,000 families in Vadodara. We are still left with 17,000 pairs and offers are flowing in from all over country, be it Bengaluru, Pune, Jaipur, Mumbai or Ahmedabad. A gurudwara and Rotary Club in Mumbai have promised us a truck load of new pair of shoes. IT major TCS shared 300 pairs it received from its employees in Pune and Vadodara.
Even employees union of Gujarat State Fertiliser Corporation in Vadodara has offered its help. We hope that we would be able to share no less than 75,000 pairs before the end of this summer,” Pandya says.

What has further enthused the group is that Vadodara Medical Association has approached them and asked them to help with distribution of vitamin tablets to underprivileged.

“There are people who want to join our movement from outside Vadodara but we feel that they must organise their own individual groups and begin work in their respective cities. We are willing to go and help them set up the process. Each person has to extend his own hand and light the lamp,” Pandya adds.“We cannot be everywhere.”

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