What I always liked about Diwali – apart from the good food, of course – was the lights. I liked the idea of decorating the house with candles or diyas. This was even before I knew the significance of it. What significance? Well, two that I am aware of. One, the houses were lit up in Ayodhya to welcome Ram & Co back from their sojourn in the jungle, where they had various adventures, the key message being the triumph of good over evil. Anyway, when the good trio came back to Ayodhya, the faithful citizens welcomed them back by lighting up their houses and in those pre-electric days they used lamp lights.
The second significance of the lights is to welcome in Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. There are various rituals to do with welcoming Lakshmi into the house: keeping doors and windows open, keeping all the lights on, doing puja, buying things, gambling (What? Why?? How??? Who knows!), spending money, making money etc. For my part, I like to keep the doors and windows open anyway to get some fresh air in, but on Diwali day this is not very effective because there’s no fresh air to be had anywhere in the entire sub continent, practically. Why? Because all of it is full of the fumes of fire crackers.
Why, oh why, do people have to light fire crackers? And why the ones that go Bang!? I hate things that go Bang!, and I hate them even more because most dogs get petrified and run and hide when things start going Bang! around them. Probably other animals aren’t too happy either, but dogs are definitely unhappy and, come to think of it, I don’t think babies are too thrilled about it either.
The festival of lights, people, lights. NOT the festival of noise. And I’m not even saying anything about pollution and asthma and deafness and blindness and fires and burns and child labor in making the fire crackers in the first place.
The thought of twisting bits of cotton and placing them in tiny earthenware bowls and filling the bowls with oil and lighting the cotton wicks and watching them burn is something so lovely and so peaceful. Much could be said of the alternatives to diyas: candles or electric lights. But candles are messy, they topple and leave wax all over the place, and besides, they go out at the slightest hint of a breeze. Diyas are much neater and much more cooperative, they often manage to keep burning even in a breeze. And electric lights – fairy lamps and long strings of bulbs that are festooned over the entire building – look very nice, but are missing the romance altogether. Without the effort of twisting the wicks and pouring the oil and then watching them burn in a bit of a breeze, fluttering but surviving, without that excitement, where’s the thrill of Diwali, the festival of lights?
Another thing that I think certainly doesn’t go with Diwali is bombs. Not firecracker bombs, I mean, but killer bombs, the kind that are left in shopping places to kill people. Why would anyone want to do that? Call me naïve, but I simply fail to understand why a person, any person, would get any kind of happiness or satisfaction out of killing innocent people who are out shopping to celebrate a festival – to celebrate life. All they are doing is buying gifts and sweets – small things to make ordinary people happy. Nobody is carrying out any social-religious-political agenda here. Why go kill them? The person who left the bomb there, and watched its destruction later on TV, he’s human too. Why did he (or she) do that? Why? I don’t understand.
Lights, and good food. That’s what Diwali is about. Why not just keep it that way?