In India’s First Blind-Friendly Pandal, A Durga Idol Made Of 12,000 Nails Which Can Be Touched & Felt

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During Durga Puja, while all blind lanes, dingy alleys, corners and crannies in Kolkata are decked up in dazzling lights, colourful marquees and vibrant themes, Bengalees flock the streets in hordes. Sounds exciting, right? Now imagine how Durga Puja is for the visually-impaired individuals, who can’t step into the jostling crowd to blend in with the Puja madness or witness the artistic marvels at the pandals. To foster more social inclusion, Samaj Sebi Sangha in Kolkata has portrayed blindness as their theme this year, with a pandal exclusively dedicated for the visually-challenged.

What Durga Puja means for the visually-challenged

Ballygunge Samaj Sebi Sangha is a noted Durga Puja organiser in Kolkata, especially known for their attempts to create social awareness about many issues. “To do justice to our association name, which translates as ‘The Social Workers’, we try to inculcate some social consciousness through our Puja every year,” shares Arijit Maitra, General Secretary of Samaj Sebi Sangha.

Social workers Sumi and Shubhodeep Majumder, who have been working with blind children at Voice of World Special School, approached Samaj Sebi Sangha and suggested them to take up the cause of the visually-impaired.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

“We were so moved by the idea that we instantly finalised it. To start with, we interacted with students of Narendrapur Blind Boys’ Academy and Voice of World and asked them what Durga Puja means for them. Keeping in mind their ideas, dreams and emotions, we have tried to create an imaginary world in our pandal,” Maitra shares.

The organisers have extended special invitations to children from blind schools who have already staged different cultural performances at the podium near the pandal. They have also organised special surprises to fill those little minds with bursts of happiness.

The Durga sculpture made with 12,000 screws (Image credits: Arnab Dutta Gupta)

Every inch of the pandal has something to tell you

The entire stretch of the pandal has been lined by a tactile path, where visually-challenged visitors can walk independently, side by side with others. An enlarged sculpture of the Goddess Durga idol made using 12,000 screws, graces the entrance, which the visually-challenged people can touch to feel how a traditional idol looks like.

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Handicrafts in nails & strings, woodwork and paper cutting, made by trained blind individuals, adorn the walls and ceiling of the main pandal.

The entire set up exudes the essence of a world as seen by individuals deprived of sight, with artworks and sculptures spreading the message of empathy to all.

An artwork depicting blindness

To raise awareness about posthumous eye donation and how it can gift the blessing of sight to someone, the organisers have collaborated with MP Birla Eye Foundation. “Over 20 people have already pledged their eyes even before our inaugural ceremony. We hope more people follow suit,” informs Maitra. To ensure credibility, the volunteers are provided with a pledge certificate after they register for eye donation.

“A gateway installed near the pandal depicts a solar eclipse to pass the message that if we donate our eyes, then the light can come back to the visually-impaired,” he shares.

“We have also offered a stall to Blind Person’s Association who have been operating a Braille press in Bengal for a long time. Presently, due to a decline in external contributions, they are struggling with funds. We wish people pour in funds generously for them to continue their noble endeavour,” Maitra appeals to everyone.

Artwork showing the social exclusion of the visually-challenged

The voice of an inward eye

The 2018 theme for Samaj Sebi Sangha is “Sparsha – Anubhaver Durga Pujo” (The Voice of an Inward Eye).

“The freedom of the mind’s eye is the right that Ma has given us. No external evil or darkness has the power to enter the divine world we create with our senses of touch and sound that Samaj Sebi has complemented. Our Durga Puja, therefore, is far more beautiful this year. They have assisted our eye and heart to conquer what sight bars us from.” – reads the description on their website.

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‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge

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Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles

It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.

The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.

In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.

“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.

On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.

“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.

After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.

Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.

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It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote
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