Sound and fury
Counting the many, many things I hate about Diwali
Don’t get me wrong. I like a celebration as much as any other Indian. And like everyone else, I wait all year for the festive season to come around. There is the first hint of winter in the air; the markets are lit up, gleaming like new brides; and the annual round of parties promises some great food and drink. What’s not to like? And I do like it very much indeed.
But of late, the build-up to Diwali has left me reaching for the sick bag as the commercialisation of the festival reaches new heights every year. And as the original spirit of the day – to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, the victory of light over darkness – dies a deafening death every year, I get more and more disillusioned by what we have turned Diwali into. From a festival of light it has been transformed into an orgy of noise; from a day of prayer, when we welcomed the Goddess Lakshmi and the spirit of prosperity into our homes, it has turned into a celebration of conspicuous consumption; and from an occasion to get together with friends and family it has become an endless round of social events where one-upmanship is the name of the game.
Every year, as I settle down the clean the debris of the festival, sending off hampers of baked goods and mithai to the neighbourhood orphanage, I can’t help but reflect on how soulless and impersonal our Diwalis have become. So here, in no particular order of importance, is a list (by no means exhaustive) of what I have come to hate about Diwali.
1) The advertisements: The build-up starts weeks before the festival, as every company worth its marketing budget starts bombarding its target customers with exhortations to buy, buy, buy – and then buy some more. Buy your wife gold jewellery; buy your mother a bigger, better fridge/TV/expensive electronic appliance of choice; buy your kids a new phone/ipad.
As I flip through newspapers or surf TV channels, I can’t help but wonder how this affects people who can’t afford any of this stuff. Do they feel like failures because they can’t buy new clothes for their kids, leave alone jewellery for their wives? Do they get depressed at the thought that theirs will be the only family in the neighbourhood not to get a new TV or sofa set? Is the festival effectively ruined for them because they can’t afford all those goodies, so seductively set out for their delectation?
2) The traffic: Yes, it does become a bit of a nightmare, doesn’t it, as the entire city gets behind the wheel to do the rounds, driving from one corner to the other to drop off all those Diwali presents to friends, family, business colleagues and corporate honchos.
Result: travelling times gets doubled no matter where you go and what time you set out. Tempers fray, instances of road rage increase, and don’t even get me started on the amount of fuel wasted.
3) The hampers: Ah yes, the hampers. The baskets full of rubbish, most of which, I suspect, has been hastily recycled from one basket to another (though, on the bright side, it does make it more eco-friendly). Gone are the days when a dabba of mithai would suffice. Now you have to source exotic chocolates, endless pastry products, jars of olives, and that obligatory bottle of wine/champagne. Honestly, why not just send a diya and be done with it?
4) Card parties: Oh God, how I loathe them! All that huddling around a table, staring furtively at your cards, refusing to wind up the game so that dinner can be served at a decent hour, and then moaning and groaning about how much money you have lost. How can this be anyone’s idea of a party?
5) Diwali melas: They are my idea of hell. It is as if the entire collection of second-rate products in the world has been brought together in one place so that you can choose from among a treasure trove of tasteless tat (once you’ve found parking for your car, a near-impossible feat). Isn’t it time we rediscovered the charm of shopping for Diwali at our own locals?
6) The spam: It starts from the week before, as every company/PR outfit/shop/restaurant that has bought your phone number off some master list starts inundating you with smses. Get 20 per cent off on Diwali dinner if you buy a loyalty card; say no to crackers; buy a new flat.
7) The crackers: Diwali has long since been transformed into a festival of sound rather than a celebration of light, but of late the cracker menace is getting even worse. I’m not one of the green brigade that believes that crackers will bring about the end of civilisation as we know it, but I can’t help being appalled at just how over-the-top the fireworks display has got of late.
As children, we were happy to light our phooljharis and anaars and set off the odd rocket. But the sheer scale of cracker-bursting these days is both scary and repellent. Just how much money do we blow up every Diwali, and how much damage do we do to our environment (never mind, scaring the life out of little children and dogs)?
I can’t help but think that if all of us curtailed our expenditure on some – if not all – of the above and gave the money saved to charity, it would be a true celebration of Diwali: the festival that marks the triumph of good over evil.