It’s the night before Diwali (sorry for the completely unoriginal beginning). It is 10.30 pm and I am at home savouring the calm after a week of hectic house cleaning and shopping and helping my mother make some sweets and savouries.
The house is fragrant with the til (sesame) oil that my mother has just heated with some herbs and spices for the ritual oil bath tomorrow. The new clothes that my parents and I will be wearing tomorrow are stacked in a beautiful bronze tray for my father to hand out after the morning oil bath. The Diwali sweets (theratipal and okkarai) and the savouries (tenkozhal and cornflakes chivda) are also laid out with the leghiyam, a spicy ginger preparation, which is supposed to be a cure against the effects of gluttony that one normally indulges in during Diwali. The rice kolam has been drawn at the entrance to our house, and the clay diyas have been lit and all is well with the world. Well almost. This is the calm before the storm—the storm of firecrackers.
To most Indians, Deepavali or Diwali is not about new clothes, an endless orgy of eating, holidays, and gifts—it is about bursting firecrackers, and the louder they are the better it is. And this is the reason why I
hate dislike Diwali so much. I am petrified of firecrackers.
I recall some Diwalis spent crying non-stop and other Diwalis trying to cope and manage with a brave face. As I grew older, the crying bouts gave way to sullen anger and sulking episodes during Diwali. I must admit here that this is something that I have not got over completely, even today.
Like every year, this year too, I have made a conscious effort to not let the firecrackers get to me. It hasn’t been smooth sailing though—a sudden burst of crackers at the market place, where I was buying vegetables yesterday, almost had me bursting into tears. The children in my building, who have been busy with their bagfuls of firecrackers throughout the day today have also severely tested my resolve.
When I was 5, I had asked TGN, my paternal grandfather, why crackers were necessary during Diwali. He said that it was necessary to frighten away all things bad and evil, and ensure that only good things remained behind.
I don’t know what is good about firecrackers—they contribute to air and noise pollution, a large percentage of child labour are involved in its manufacture, they are a health hazard… the list is endless. I also don’t think that firecrackers frightens away bad and evil things. What it does is terrify stray dogs and cats, other animals, birds, babies and people like me.
I do realise that we need to celebrate festivals. But I wonder at the same time if this is the way to celebrate festivals. When will we realise that good, bad and evil are within us and not outside us. And we don’t need any firecrackers to drive the negative things away.
Happy Diwali, dear reader !