Being brought up in a westernised household, my family never enforced their beliefs of God and prayer on my sister and I. Never did we celebrate our festivals with old traditions and beliefs that were countless generations old. We loved the freedom of thought and our unorthodox perception of the same was the conduit that moulded my personality.
Little did I know that this ever-evolving habit of ours would shape the very foundation on which I based my interpretation of love.
One such festival was Independence Day. 15th August was always a day when my family and I celebrated a lot more than just our country’s independence.
As the national holiday arrived, my sister and I started our twenty-minute drive to Snehalaya, a shelter home in the mainland of Ahmednagar. We went with our ever-enthusiastic granddad, who practices philanthropy as a way of life.
Driving down to Snehalaya
As we drove into their sprawling ground, amidst the open-spaced and brick-walled offices, I could not help but notice the intricate details of the space and how neat it looked. The man to hold credible, Mr Girish Kulkarni, had left no stone unturned while creating this home, and it portrayed his hard work and passion for what he did in an exemplary manner.
My sister and I stood in awe of the beauty and vastness of this place before we realised that grandpa was already way ahead of us. He was unstoppable, and nothing could hinder his concentration or pace when he came down to Snehalaya. A one-track mind, if you must.
We followed him to a domed hall, where we experienced a wave of liveliness and spirit. The room was full of children celebrating Independence Day. Their enthusiasm contagious, it was hard not to be enveloped into their enthusiasm. Being surrounded by their loud, whimsical banter, chased off any thoughts of the outside world from your mind. That’s what this was! Truly a world in itself.
An array of children from all various walks of life, we watched as they played with each other, not a care in the world and not intimidated by the future. Coming from all kinds of backgrounds and finally ending up at Snehalaya, they embraced the freedom of differences instead of trying to hide them.
One big happy family!
Gleefully lost in the pleasant present, they lived in a home of love, a real ‘Sneh-Alaya’. When one looked at them, one commemorated a family. As the day wore on, I drew on words by George Shaw that said “A happy family is but an earlier heaven”, and it felt like I only just then, had understood the true essence of that statement.
Later, we watched them fly kites- failing, succeeding but having fun none-the-less. I’m certain that at an age so young, they did not know the significance of Independence Day or kite flying, but the affection they had for one other was mutual and transparent, and it made your heart warm. Those innocent smiles, shining eyes and words they spoke unfiltered, without restrictions that come with age. At that moment, I was content; nothing could go wrong.
Food for Thought
As the day drew to an end, it was time to bid farewell. A farewell with bitter-sweet sentiments, we carried memories to cherish for a lifetime. I found it enthralling how children less than half my age had taught me a lesson I will carry for the rest of my years. Though it was perplexing that they had such an enormous impact on me, I realised that it was the little things in life that held most significance and brought the most freedom.
As the sun disappeared behind the hills, I replayed the surreal experience over in my head. My visit to Snehalaya opened my eyes to the fact that we all come into this world alike, but let petty things distort the feelings of love and care that form the very innate characteristic of our being. These children, aware of their differences, loved unconditionally and showed me how the loathing that I learnt could be unlearnt because we were not born with it.
What a Day!
I slowly rested my head on the window glass, reminiscing the beautiful day I had, lost in my reverie realising that I was content, and this is the true meaning of freedom.
We watched as the fog gradually covered what will always be The Home of Love, a zeitgeist for larger-than-life human connections.
– Meher Nagarwalla