Cracker of a dilemma

Cracker of a dilemma

So, again, it’s the week of the biggest festive season in the rain-battered city and there is a rather bipolar feeling that haunts the modern Indian like a miasma. This is the time of the year when people celebrate and then have bouts of doubts over it.

You experience two feelings. Firstly, there is the security blanket of memory, tradition, vacationing and the sanctity of religion which keeps you warm and happy. But secondly, the awareness of over-celebration, commercialisation and self-doubt lays a cold hand on your heart.

Deepavali is thus the bright spark of happy memories, sugar overload, and family visitations. It means that a celebration is not a guilty annual affair because there is a reason for it — predominantly the good news of Lord Ram’s return to Ayodhya. That is why you eat sweets and burst crackers and pollute the air, in case you didn’t know. Even if the modern-age-bad-habit pollution is something that was created only in the last century, you do it, nevertheless.

It is also clear that this is one festival that means so many things to so many in an apt symbol of diversity. The major reason for happiness in various parts of the country is over the restoration of the Lord’s kingdom after the killing of Ravana.

That was a celebration that I went wild over, until I realised that in many parts of South India, it was a joyous occasion of a different kind — for the killing of the demon Naraka by Krishna in the Dvapara Yuga. That seemed like a good reason too, so I pitched in, even though I knew nothing about the demon or why he was killed, or when.

But there are actually a lot of related reasons to celebrate. Many rejoice the return of the Pandavas after an exile of 12 years plus one of ‘secret living’. Deepavali signifies puja to Lakshmi, or the Goddess of Wealth, especially among the trading classes. The Marwari New Year is celebrated on Deepavali, or on the last day of Krishna Paksha of Ashwin.

The Gujarati rejoices over the New Year at this time. One day later, the Lunar Calendar in the Karthika month (or the first day of Shukla Paksha) is important. To the Jain, it recalls the moksha by Mahavira in 527 BCE. However, it also means the death anniversary of Swami Dayanand Saraswati, or the Shardiya Nav-Shasyeshti, to the
Arya Samaji.

So, puja time swings in and you can go through the day with the satisfaction of having accomplished a prayer service with the family. Some members feel good to turn to gambling and splurging and drinking, quoting a game of dice between Lord Shiva and Parvathi, but that is another story.

However, Deepavali is also the time that begins to stir self-doubt and indignation. Many suddenly remember that crackers aren’t such a great idea, after all, as the manufacturing is a distressing story of little boys and girls. It is the occasion to boycott the products — though not everyone has any idea about the process, or what would happen for the rest of the year.

Animal lovers find a reason to find the noise offensive. Their sad pets cower in houses when the big blasts happen, so the logic is to not burst too many crackers, or impair the animal’s hearing. How many is “too many” is not clear, though. And how less is safe enough is less clear.

The prophets of climatic doom are incensed over the grit and damage to the atmosphere.

Should we be going wild and polluting the air? Does the toxic smoke justify the over-celebration, so that we can wait to get sad and weepy enough the next day?

Deepavali is thus the best time for celebration and also the flashpoint to wonder whether you are doing it the right way. Like everything else in an ancient-modern country, it is a reflection of reflex actions. With one foot in tradition, you are unsure of the landing stage for the second foot, or what you need to do to cut out the accumulated flab of years.

Still, doubts over doing things as they have been done don’t stop the action, because they sound the safest.

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