Diwali, the ‘festival of lights’ is celebrated on a dark moon night in the month of Kartik (according to the Hindu calendar), contrasting the power of brightness over darkness. As myriads of fireworks light up the black skies, and multi coloured twinkling lights of earthen lamps, candles, electric bulbs adorn the earth, all seems to be right with the world, with God in Her proper place.
Yet, Diwali is, in a way, symbolic of the many contradictions and contrasts that abound in our lives. Dhanteras, the first of the 5 days long Diwali festivities, is associated with the buying of some new utensil/ornament/household goods , symbolising prosperity. This year, in the city of Lucknow alone, 100kg of gold, 700 kg of silver, 750 cars, 3500 two wheelers, besides electronic goods and utensils, were estimated to have been sold on the day of Dhanteras itself, global recession notwithstanding. At the same time, the number of people subsisting below the poverty line has also increased. So, while many may not have a square meal on this day, few amongst us would be buying a special ‘mithai’, made of pine nuts, saffron and gold, priced at Rs 250 a piece.
The intense ‘anti cracker campaigns’ spearheaded by the environmental conscious brigade, go hand in hand with the nerve wrecking booms of cracker-bombs deafening the environs and polluting the air. The so called ‘green’, but expensive fireworks rub shoulders with ‘terminator' and other weirdly named rockets, which become deadlier with each passing year. There are Diwali Fireworks Displays alongside ‘Say No To Crackers’ drives. But it was heartening to hear from my students that at least 25% of them had stopped burning crackers in an effort to save the environment.
As the double meaning song goes, ‘playing with matches, a girl can get burnt’, so also the light which dispels darkness also causes devastating fires. In my school, the anti cracker drive was immediately followed by the city Fire Officer telling us the dos and don’ts in case of injuries / burns caused by crackers or an erring candle/diya.
All said and done, Diwali does give all of us an excuse to forget our woes, at least for a while and join in the festivities with gay abandon; to add some light and sweet moments to an otherwise mundane life. So let us imbibe the true meaning of this festival and enjoy it with moderation. Let us not make a vulgar display of riches, brushing aside the poor. Rather let wealth shake hands with poverty, and leave some of its sparkles forever in indigent palms.
Let the lights of diwali light up the hearths of the hungry and the hearts of the lonely. Let the festive air blow from the lowliest huts of India to the domes of the White House, and let the true spirit of Diwali (which signifies the victory of light over darkness and of truth over dishonesty) pervade all, irrespective of caste, colour, creed and social status.
Let us wish each other a peaceful, safe and happy Diwali.
Shobha Shukla - CNS
(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: http://www.citizen-news.org)