Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The unbearable lightness of Diwali

It's that season when firecrackers are back in fashion. In a nation like India, you don't really need a festival to make some noise. Noise happens to be the most followed religion in the country anyway. Regardless, it's that time of the year when we begin to hear some people advocating noiseless Diwali. I wrote a piece four Diwalis ago on the same subject and it seems like not much has changed. Everything depends on how one looks at things and for that to materialize, one requires light. Ironic as it is, this is a festival of lights despite the ignorance surrounding it! It has never been about sound. Even if one follows the recorded history, Ramayana was written around 5 BC and firecrackers weren't invented by Chinese until the 12th century AD. So, the logic behind firecrackers is pretty much global. We crack them for the same reason that the Olympics does on its inauguration day. There's nothing religious about it. The association of firecrackers with Diwali took place thanks to Hindi cinema, which for dramatic reasons, used shots of firecrackers to signify revelry in movies. Something the entire nation (not just other vernacular cinema) picked up over time. But you can't make that argument with sensitive Hindus—well, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists celebrate this glorious festival too but aren't known for their noisiness—who prefer overlooking facts. So much so they feel their freedom of practice is being hampered by those who expect them to avoid firecrackers during Diwali celebrations. In their defense, they'll make lame arguments that Muslims broadcast their prayers (azaan) five times a day and nobody seems to have a problem with that. First thing first, Muslim festivals are noiseless by default if you don't consider the bleating call of death that's pretty bloody and distasteful. Going back to azaan, it's a technological shame that they use loudspeakers to relay prayer when it's clearly stated in Qu'ran that muezzin's voice should be enough to make a believer take notice. But still, isn't the infamous loudspeaker a thing of exclusivity in Muslim-dominated neighbourhood? And can the same be said about the noise that keeps emanating from a temple throughout the year—as you know, we Hindus love celebrating life—for one festival or the other irrespective of the neighbourhood? Let me answer that for you: No. Besides, it's ridiculous to compare human voice with firecrackers, especially in the times of Yo Yo Honey Singh. 
But then, again, firecrackers aren't about religion. It's about environment. People are bound to pounce on this by saying that pollution is a common thing in the country and a week (yes, the neighbourhood kids make sure that the Great Noise lasts at least seven days) of chemical cloud won't change the status. Guess what? It does. Due to blatant ignorance on the part of urban India, Diwali has become a festival of chemicals celebrated with lanterns made in China. In an ideal world, we would be decorating the entrance with rangolis and placing diyas on every windowsill of the building. But no, that's not what happens. It looks like we are celebrating Christmas with fashionable neon lights that twinkles on and off! Technology breeds laziness but it shouldn't make us forget who we are and where we come from. My parents aren't vastly educated but they had the gumption to teach me at a very young age that it's all about lights (and sweets, of course!). Also, it's only when you have pets at home that you realize how difficult (read: traumatic) it can get for them when firecrackers burst in the vicinity. Shock is too weak a word to describe how they behave. The situation gets worse for the street dogs who have no place to escape to. Now that i've mentioned the so-called animals, i'm tempted to mention heart patients, pregnant ladies, oldies and people who are vulnerable to startling sounds here but you get the picture. The only funny part here is that the innocent being called kids are responsible for a majority of this chaos.  
But then, again, Diwali is not about the props. It's about spreading the light and happiness. In a simple word, sharing. Gifting those who don't have an excuse to celebrate the festival. But no, that's far from what's really going on in our society. The market dictates that it stays within the house. We share gifts with those who share gifts with us. It's a lot like asking "how are you?" to those we know are fine. We'd rather burn the world than see the light spread. We'd rather waste money on chemicals that's eventually going to choke us someday. We'd rather stay ignorant and feel better about ourselves. Worse still, we'd rather assume that making some noise leaves us powerful. We'd rather not question the need to gift toy-guns to our kids only to be surprised in the future how India copied America's culture of gun violence in college. OK. Let's not go there. 
Four Diwalis later, if i'm alive and typing, i'd write another piece on this subject. Till then, remember that noise affects only those who don't make them. 

PS: May the light in you shine brighter than ever before. Happy Diwali!


Anonymous said...

Wishing you a Happy and Prosperous Diwali. Take care.

Aurindam Mukherjee said...

happy diwali shakti bhai