By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Guwahati sparkled like a fairy land on the 19th and 20th October on the occasion of Diwali and Kali Puja and the residents had a feast of the eye. The metamorphosis of our dear B-grade city was unbelievable. The dirty, water-logged Guwahati seemed to transform itself into a dazzling enchanting city overnight with thousands of fancy glittering lights winking at one another. There was glitz, glamour and razzmatazz all around the city. Lights accompanied by deafening bangs seemed to threaten the sky and the children cheered in glee. Their bright and jolly faces were enough to soften the hardest heart.
Diwali is the brightest, noisiest and costliest of all the festivals and it is very dear to all, specially to the children. Kali Puja was performed in community pandals as well as in private homes. As in the case with other festivals, Diwali also indicates big money, as those fire works cost the earth. According to legend Diwali is observed to celebrate the home-coming of Ramchandra to Ayodhya, after slaying Rava, the king of Lanka, who had abducted Ramchandra’s wife Sita Devi, while they were serving fourteen years exile in the forest. Ramchandra, with Lakshman and an army of monkeys vanquished Rava and rescued Sita. After completion of his fourteen years’ exile he came back to Ayodhya with brother Lakshman and Sita Devi. There was immense joy on that day and the city of Ayodhya apparently sparkled with countless earthen lamps and bursting of crackers to display people’s abundant joy at the return of their king to the city. The ritual of the celebration of that momentous event is what we know as Diwali. I have no idea about the authenticity of the story, but that is what we have heard. Every festival has some legend associated with it and as logic states, every event must have a cause. Leaving aside logic, we can say with certainty that whatever might be the cause, Diwali is the most enjoyable of all the festivals we celebrate and that is all that matters.
Though Diwali is supposed to be observed only for a day, it can be seen that in reality the festival is celebrated on the Pre-Diwali and Post-Diwali night in a milder form. According to the almac, fourteen earthen lamps are to be lit on the pre-Diwali evening and fourteen leafy vegetables are also to be consumed. But I have no idea why it should be done. Hence I cannot give any reason for the custom. Yet it is a fact that in case of religious festivals we do not have to bother about ‘why’ it is done. We just do it and derive pleasure by doing it. For me that is all that matters. If by doing something we get happiness, then why not do it without asking for any reason? After all, it is matter of faith and logic does not enter into it.
Children particularly love the festival of Diwali, as it implies sparkling fire works and ear-splitting bangs. Both these aspects delight children. I believe that it is the most popular festival of the Rajasthani people. They paint their homes, make sweets and distribute them and burst diverse kinds of crackers nearly for a seek in celebration of Diwali.
On the occasion of Diwali ba plants are firmly implanted at the gates of every home. Apparently ba plants are regarded as auspicious for the good of the family and home; hence they are very necessary for all the favourable functions, though the reason for this belief eludes me. In the evening earthen lamps are lit and in some homes decorative chain of glittering light bulbs are added to enhance the fascition of the otherwise dull and drab colourless home. These beauty adjuncts drastically change the mundane look of the home. turally the price of every commodity shoots up to an unbelievable height at every festival time. We have adjusted our life style to the whims of the traders. Unfortutely there is nobody to check the avaricious tendency of the unscrupulous traders. May be those in power are not even aware of the cost of various things and they are not the least concerned regarding the plight of the common people.
Those small earthen lamps, which were quite cheap some year back, are now very expensive. Add to that the other inevitable expenses. The total amount will stagger most of the consumers. In today’s scerio even a simple vegetarian meal costs the earth, leave aside meat, fish or other items, which have become a luxury for the common people. Even once cheap vegetables like potato, gourd, brinjal etc. have joined their aristocratic cousins like cauliflowers, peas and carrots. Even green chillies, supposed to act as appetizers have become costlier. So we have to banish chillies from our dining table. It is sad no doubt, but uvoidable. Anyway, it is no use repining over the cost of food products. One has to eat for survival and that is that. It is of course a tremendous burden on the common people.
Fire works are inseparable from Diwali celebrations. Road-side makeshift stalls emerged overnight and they were chock-a-block with various kinds of crackers, sparklers etc. Children turally pester their parents to buy those crackers. What is Diwali without fireworks? Most of them are invariably connected with ear-splitting bangs. But their price is prohibitive, this year more so. I too had gone to the market to buy some candles, crackers and other things for the children of my family. To my dismay I found them to be excessively expensive. Only one bagful of crackers cost about ten thousand rupees. One gentleman with a small boy could be seen buying a couple of bags of crackers for fifteen thousand rupees before the bemused eyes of the awestruck customers, including myself. The salesman was turally very happy to find such a generous customer, who did not haggle over the exorbitant price and did not bat an eye on learning the price of the crackers. Really some people have all the lock.
But a minute’s reflection brings to the mind the fact that it is such a wanton waste of money. Crackers turn into ashes within seconds—and crores of money all over the country are spent in these one minute wonders. I have heard that Sivakashi is famed for its cracker-manufacturing business. They earn huge amounts of money from this industry. But it is also a very risky occupation. I believe that Barpeta in our state is also famed for this cracker-manufacturing industry. We enjoy the wonderful display of the crackers on the Diwali night and possibly we do not bother about the huge amount of money spent on them. But if we think about some people surviving on a scanty meal, we cannot help feeling guilty. Some people have so much and some have so little. Some of them do not even have a shed over their heads to protect themselves from rains or scorching heat. They live on foot paths or in the railway stations or in any available space under the open sky. They too have small children who may have demanded crackers and other things from their parents. But they cannot oblige due to lack of money. So the children of these deprived sections watch the glittering display from outside the homes of the affluent people and derive great joy. They also search for any half-burnt crackers which might have been thrown away by the lucky children, who have everything they require. At such times the difference between the rich and the poor becomes too glaring to ignore. You can’t help feeling sad for those deprived little children, who also want to enjoy life and live happily. Yet in festival times or at any other time they seem to be quite jolly. Perhaps their needs are few and they do not aspire for things which their parents cannot afford. They are innocent little children and they enjoy Diwali by watching the glittering display of the wealthy. Perhaps being satisfied with what you have is the key to happiness. So in spite of their poverty, the poor children are a happy lot. They sure know how to take life as it comes.
For two solid nights Guwahatians could not sleep, as the hilarity accompanied by sparkling lights and deafening sounds continued for the whole night. It was of course hard on the elderly and sick people and that is why they frown upon such festivities. In their view, it is nice to enjoy and celebrate some festivals, but too much of everything is not good for health. The environmentalists would certainly condemn all these explosions, since they lead to air and sound pollution, which is harmful to humanity as well as to the planet earth. Already there have been discussions, debates, conferences etc. all around the world to save the earth from disaster. But who would bother about such things at the time of Diwali celebrations? It is also true that people, specially young people and children will not be amused if we talk about the impending peril to the earth, when they are celebrating Diwali with exuberance. We cannot act as spoil sport and throw cold water on their happiness—can we? After all, Diwali comes only once in a year. Hence let us forget the gloomy thoughts and be happy.