A Festival of Darkness

I’m home alone, marvelling Pirates of the Caribbean for the uncountable time. My room mates have left for their hometowns and so have my colleagues and friends.

Today is Diwali or Deepawali, a special Indian holiday. People working away from their hometowns throng home to spend the day with family. Most religions celebrate this day as the day good destroyed the evil in the world.

diwali-fiewworks
Not real bombs. Just fireworks.

Yet it’s ironic that we celebrate the end of all evil by spreading more evil.

We all love spending time with our families, sharing a meal, and smiling at the kids who run around the neighbourhood fighting over candy while parents share a drink. That’s how foreigners see Diwali. It’s a day of joy and sweets and all things nice. There’s no evil in that.

So it would seem.

Diwali is the festival of lights. And the reason: We celebrate the day lighting firecrackers and scaring the crap out of our domestic animals. It’s common for people to have cows and buffalos as pets, along with dogs, cats, and fish. And while I enjoy Jack Sparrow’s adventures in my room, I hear these bigger animals wailing in fear as the fireworks go up a little too close to their feet.

As I shake my head disgusted at parents who let their kids torment animals, my phone lights up with flash news: “Fire in Gujarat’s fireworks shop, over 10 people dead.” Every year, Diwali brings a handful of fire accidents in fireworks shops. And every year people debate whether we should continue selling and manufacturing fireworks because of all the death and destruction. And yet, year after year, people light up their stash of smoky hell, laughing at lights and lolling like maniacs.

fireworks-shop
Fireworks. A livelihood.

There’s more to Diwali than killing lives and scaring animals, though. Fireworks are expensive. And every household with children or light-liking adults spends about $30 in fireworks. Not to mention other expenses like buying sweets and savouries and new clothes for the entire family. These don’t come cheap. Tis the season where employers give employees a Diwali bonus, too.

On the day of Diwali, people wake up early, clean up real good, wear new clothes, have breakfast, and go outdoors to light up fireworks. An hour or two later they’d break for coffee and snacks. Then again, they go back for more fireworks. and in between the festivities, comes other traditions like visiting neighbours and friends to give away snacks, and all-day feasting in cholesterol-full foods. The whole day wanes, and we call this the single biggest festival of the year.

However, like all things Indian, there’s also a counter-culture to this Diwali madness. There are some who don’t throw money away on fireworks or shopping. They don’t spend all day indulging guilt-free on guilt foods, laugh at animals cowering in fear, or trigger heart attacks in patients in a nearby hospital.

These are the ones who see festivals as a chance reconnect with their family without tearing other families apart. We are the misfits, the tradition-less, and the unholy. We call Diwali the festival of darkness because we are the ones who care for the greater good.

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