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Raj Kumar has been making candles for 30 years. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Raj Kumar has been making candles for 30 years. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Photo Essay | Like moths to a flame

For the Blind Relief Association in Delhi, the annual Diwali Bazaar renews hopes of a crackling new year

It takes Raj Kumar and his friend Som Raj, both 45-year-old, visually-challenged kaarigars (workers), around half an hour to make about four dozen candles, perhaps more. They have to oil the saancha (metal mould) for the candles, tie the thread that becomes the wick, and finally, pour hot wax into the cylindrical cavities where the candle solidifies over 20 minutes.

Kumar says there are over 150 moulds with different designs. “There are circular candles, spiral-like, egg- and apple-shaped, even bomb-shaped candles."

Candles set faster in the winter months, which is fortunate, since they sell most during this season—specifically before and during Diwali. Which, in turn, is why Kumar and Raj, along with other workers and volunteers at the Blind Relief Association, have been working almost non-stop for several weeks now—10 hours a day, seven days a week—to churn out craft products for the association’s annual Diwali Bazaar, starting Monday. Kumar, who has been making candles for almost 30 years, betrays no sign of fatigue. “There’s no real accounting for how many candles we’ve made," he tells us. “I can only estimate that we’ve made a few thousand in the last few weeks."

On the day we visited the workshop, 10 visually-impaired kaarigars were working on candles and paper products such as gift bags, the two main product categories. Absalom David, project officer of the association, says they have 16 visually-impaired workers, including trainees. The diyas (earthen lamps) are sourced and then filled with wax at the workshop too.

While David would not share the exact number of candles and paper products made last year, he says the numbers run into hundreds of thousands.

They make candles, diyas and paper craft through the year, selling them at the campus shop, but the Diwali Bazaar is their biggest opportunity to showcase work. The bazaar, now in its 26th year, is the association’s biggest fund-raising event.

For the management, it’s a way to give donors a chance to spend their money well by buying the association’s products. “We don’t get donations from big corporates," the association’s deputy executive secretary, Padam Chand Mehta, explains. “We get individual donors who want to be sure that their money is going to the right people."

“We also get a substantial portion of our yearly funds from (the same) people who venture to set up their own stalls at the Bazaar," says Mehta. Of the Bazaar’s total sales—estimated in 2011 to be near 1 crore—nearly 15% can be credited to the sale of the association’s Diwali ornaments, lights and gifts. “We’re usually sold out by the sixth day of the Bazaar," says David, “and then we have to scramble to meet the demand." They find it difficult to increase production because they have neither the skilled workers nor the space.

“There’s a lot we can learn from visually-impaired people working here," says David, who has seen more than a dozen Diwali Bazaars being organized.

As David speaks, on the other side of the room 20-year-old Bimlesh Bharti is single-mindedly fine-tuning the scores of handmade paper gift bags that he and his three friends have been tasked with. Bharti is a new addition to the association’s fold, having arrived in Delhi a few weeks ago from Uttar Pradesh. He is now a book-binding trainee here, but aspires to become a teacher of “upanyas", or literature. In his free time, he can be found at the library, studying the classics. “I am currently in the middle of a book on contemporary poetry," he says. “I want to read a Munshi Premchand book after this."

With the Diwali Bazaar nearing, though, it’s all hands on deck.

The Blind Relief Association’s Diwali Bazaar will be held from 5-11 November, from 10.30am-8pm, at the association’s campus on Lal Bahadur Shastri Marg, behind The Oberoi hotel, New Delhi. Candles, diyas and paper gift bags start at 15.

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