Thursday 3 November 2016

Hindu festivals and the Indian guilt

A thousand-wala is laid on the ground; a shivering hand of a mother tries to fire it with a long Agarbathi; children make bluffing sounds to scare her for fun; the mother pretends to act as if she is scared and let down by the children; the father comes to her help; and when the cracker finally bursts, the whole family erupt in joy. In the darkness of the dawn, their faces are lit by the lights of the bursts; the loud blasts fill their ears leaving no more room for the disturbing noises of daily pressures. The moment when the string is exhausted, the family revels in silence with their minds resonating to the single note of togetherness. ‘Phatt!’ goes one piece left over in the string, cracking alone so late only to bring them back to their senses for the next round of fun. This is not a screenplay for a cracker commercial. This is a regular scene in every Indian household on a festive Diwali day. Clothes, pooja, temples, sweets and all others may add to the festivity, but Diwali will remain seriously incomplete without crackers. 

Type the word “celebration” in Google and hit on images. Result? Ninety of the hundred images thrown will have one thing in common – Firecrackers. Crackers are lots of fun. If there is one thing that can bring out the child in a stressed and worked up adult, it is crackers. While crackers can make even adults feel like kids, every Diwali, the champions of modernity run a campaign to make even the kids feel like adults. They would make a 6 year old child hold a placard and pose for a photograph. The poster would read “The Earth has enough problems already. Avoid crackers”. The poor kid would be able to sight only two of those words herself – “The” and “has”. These silly campaigners would conveniently forget how they advocated child’s rights when children were dressed as Goddess Durga for the previous festival. “Let kids be kids. Don’t burden them telling they are Goddesses”, they told.

Though this howling pack will never dare to suggest about reducing the tint of red in a Bakrid celebration, will rather come rushing to make Diwali green. Never mind. A Hindu is always sane enough to see gold for the sake of larger good. The proposal would seem really pink only if this brigade was forever consistent in fighting the air or waters becoming blacker. If bursting crackers for one day in a year is going to burn the planet to an irreversible state of destruction, one wonders if driving millions of cars everyday for the whole year emitting billions of tons of carbon monoxide, going to drive the planet away to a cooler galaxy? These children used in the anti-crackers campaigns would rather lose their cool if they were educated about the pollution caused from cooling systems at their homes and the mega malls, where the ultra-huge atriums that could have been left open to nature were first closed and then centrally cooled. 

The children are usually polluted with an overdose of the campaign feeds. The smart ones perhaps remain unmoved. Imagine, the mind-polluting demon trying to persuade a smart kid to give up crackers. 

With a hand around her shoulder, the tender child is asked “Well, you may find it fun but the others have a right too; they have a right to sleep, don’t they?” 

The soft-hearted child is moved but is quickly reminded of her brother. “Well, the sleeping ones usually don’t wake up anyway. Look at him! You can try firing this atom bomb below his cot”. 
“Hmm… Have you seen the smog early in the morning? Don’t the vehicles go and crash on each other?” 
Quite a reason! “But uncle, why don’t they stay back home and burst their crackers. Is life so hard to crack? Work from early morning on a festival day?” 
“Beta, what about other living beings, don’t they get scared and psychologically affected?” 
“Uncle, what about polished floor tiles, loud noise of your daily soaps, unnatural confinement to a corner of a house, is all these emotional massages?” 
“Forget all that. You love your fellow children. Don’t you? Think of them toiling in those cracker factories, denied of education, unhealthy and dangerous working conditions” 
“Ahaa… such an old story, the reason why my father skipped crackers for a couple of years. If you are really concerned about child labor, you should stop using that costly American phone of yours. They get made in China. You know? China is the biggest abuser of Childs’ rights. Now, don’t hurt the livelihoods of those parents working hard in the cracker units to get their children educated” 
“You’re getting rude. You don’t seem to have respect for elders. May be, that is why you won’t understand how sick the old and ailing ones feel about the noise of the crackers”
“That’s funny uncle. It always my grandfather who wakes us all with an early burst on the Diwali mornings.”
“Baby, so many fire accidents, so many lives lost. Is all the celebration worth?”
“So many road accidents, so many lives lost. Is all the road drives worth?”

The childish trials have exhausted. It’s time to get a bit scary with more serious stuff. “Okay. It’s time to confess. I tried telling you all those because you are a child. You seem to know more than I thought. So let’s come to the actual reason. Firecrackers release lots and lots of tiny toxic particles on air. Those can enter your lungs and damage the respiratory system. And they contribute so much to the global warming”
“Uncle, I think you need to get a lesson. Daily release of green house gases is the real concern. Not just the burst on one day. Emissions from Industries, automobiles, even from chemical fertilizers are far more dangerous. Moreover, the Diwali rains that the crackers bring along, will dilute the suspended particles if not completely wash them away”

When insignificant reasons are bloated and given mainstream media real estate, and when it happens in recurring patterns for every Hindu festival, we start to wonder if there is motivation behind it. One can keep guessing why the color green has come to signify envy, but the number of green-eyed monsters staring with disdain at anything giving elation to Hindus during their festivals is only increasing. 

They would share their fascination for the Spanish festival of Catalonia building huge human towers while dismissing Dahi handi during Krishna Janmashtami as inhuman and uncivilized. During Navaratri, they will deem Durga as a prostitute while at other times they will work to redeem the prestige of sex workers. Images of polluting broken Ganesha will be flashed after the immersion rituals at the same time maintain a deafening silence about how every river gets sucked and dried due to the soft drinks and breweries industries. Chath pooja will be deemed backward and repressive while burqa will be celebrated as minority rights. They will get Jallikkattu banned calling it animal abuse while enjoying Biryanis made of animals whose throats have been slit and allowed bleeding until death. Ravana will be celebrated on Diwali accusing the Aryan Rama for waging war against the Dravidian Ravana, Mahabali will be paid respects on Onam while Vamana who tamed Mahabali in the very same legend will be declared a fictitious character. 

The pattern attempts to instill a sense of guilt about celebrating Hindu festivals by taking away sheen that nurtures and nourishes its continuity. Dear secular uncle! You may not come with a white gown or a green hat. But your designs are clear. You are caught red handed. We have evidence in black and white. You want to break India exploiting the cracks. We want to celebrate India with fire crackers. 
A. Sudarshan,

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