Festival to Fortune

Diwali is an ancient festival that is celebrated across the country. There are different stories that tell us why Diwali is celebrated across the country, but they all have one thing in common, the actual tradition to be followed in the festival. The celebration involves people wearing new clothes, meeting up with relatives and friends, lighting lamps called ‘Diyas’, bursting of fire-crackers, and distribution of sweets and sometimes presents. While, this is all fun and frolic, there is a darker side to the festival of lights. The constant cracker bursting causes noise and air pollution. I have nothing against the festival itself, though I do have a concern for levels of pollution in my country.

Let me tell you my story on why I stopped bursting crackers.

When I was a kid, Diwalis were a blast with whole street full of kids roughly of the same age. But I remember one horror-action Diwali clearly.

When I was in the 5th grade, a cracker set off by my brother and me actually caused the glass covering the porch light to come loose and hit the ground, right next to my Grandpa’s legs. The cracker’s explosion had vibrated the glass loose out of its casing and had caused it to skydive 10 feet to the ground. We figured the glass was old and had it coming and headed inside, after our incident. We were not seated for 5 minutes when… BANG! We heard a single loud knock on our door. My grandpa, the Sylvester Stallone of the family, went out to see what caused the noise. He came back into the house holding a little black bat. When one of the crackers by the other kids on the street had gone off, the poor thing got completely muddled. He was not able to identify the huge door in front of him and had crashed face first into it. I felt terrible about bursting crackers from that Diwali, simply because of all the mishap it caused, not only to us but to everything around us. But since I was a kid, and peer pressure compels you to do stupid things, it took till 8th grade for me to completely stop bursting crackers.

But you can ask people in India and most will have a story or two about the misfortunes that happened to them during their Diwalis.

Festivities in the yesteryear.

There are a few factors that have made our traditional festivals across religions, that once brought so much happiness and learning, into a cause for destruction.

The first is, of course, the sheer scale in which the festivals are being celebrated. I had mentioned this in a previous post, but population is causing a lot of trouble. Our forefathers actually took a logical step by producing offspring by the numbers. In world of such high uncertainty of survival due to disease, famine, lack of food, warning signals, etc, they sought the best solution to propagating their bloodline in the next few centuries. Unfortunately, multiplication is never going to be lesser than the previous number hence causing a rapid growth in population.

When Rama came back from the forest after defeating Raavan, he may have had a few hundred thousand subjects in Ayodhya. These few hundred thousands lit diyas in their house and gathered to burst crackers. If all of the crackers were put together, it would have been equivalent to a small forest fire. Now with more than a billion people lighting fire to crackers, we can safely say that we set India on fire, once every year.

When we were a few hundred thousand, Ganesha idols that were sunk in waters didn’t clog up the waters as they do now. This maybe an exaggeration, but we are approximately displacing and an entire state’s soil and putting it in the water. (We could try to make an island off-shores.)

The second factor is the bigger the bang, the better the celebration. For some reason, the festivities have moved focus from Rama (or whichever story you follow) to a satisfying a violent streak of having the bigger gun. We graduated from the Bijli to the Hydrogen bomb. I am sure we could have powerful lasers next year and build a death star for the year after next. To make these bombs more entertaining than they were before, manufacturers need to put in more explosive material and more paper causing even more pollution and garbage than the previous year. Ganeshas are now looking more real, festive and sometimes bigger than an actual elephant. To get that look and the sheer sizes that it is available in now, they are also made out Plaster of Paris which pollutes the water. There are a lot more goats being cut causing more and sometimes unscrupulous breeding, a lot more sugar canes being used exclusively for the festival rather than production of Sugar, etc.

Luxury and competition have also been a deciding factor in making festivals less or more wasteful. Have you ever heard your mother say that the rich man next door has given a whole box of Kaju Katli to everyone on the street? Or you maid spending exorbitantly on her festival, so much that it actually goes out of her budget? Festivals seem to be a platform to show off one’s wealth and also cause a lot of societal pressure. When people see that you have an expensive car, they expect you to be generous during festival season. Your maid spends money to tell her relatives that she can afford a grand festival. Of course you can always argue saying that parents want to give the children what the parents have never had. But you do what you can with what you’ve got. You spend more than what you can then you are setting up your kid to be knee deep in debts in the future. Spending carelessly on everyone reduces the value of money in the child’s eyes and they are going to be a spend-thrift when they grow up.

The last factor is our changing economy, which has influenced the way we perceive the value things. Our economy charges a premium for better quality and subjective preference. (iPhone at Rs.75000 is good, an exact replica by the Chinese for quarter the price is not good.) We believe that we can transact with our gods the same way. The more money we spend on him, the more likely he is going to listen to our prayers and give us first preference. This instantly creates a need to be better than the neighbour and everyone else as your piousness is measured by amount spent on the Hundial or the Poojas. But, I don’t think god really asked for the money.

The celebration of good over evil, start of new year or whatever else the reason for the festival, takes a back seat while we and our desires take center stage. We have managed to commercialise and monetise even our festivals.

Maybe have an agency

While we are consciously doing that, can we have a committee or a government agency that set norms for the vendors and performs regular checks to ensure they are following the norms? There are after all festivals almost all through the year in India. Though the government regulating how the festival can be celebrated by it’s people will cause a furor. But like banning plastic, certain measures have to be take to ensure the continued celebrations in the years to come in an Eco-friendly manner.

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