By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Guwahati sparkled like a fairy land on the 10th and 11th November 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 the costliest of all the festivals and it is very dear to all, especially 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 fireworks cost the earth. According to legend Diwali is observed to celebrate the home-coming of Ramcbandra to Ayodhya, after slaying Rava, the king of Lanka, who had abducted Ramchandra’s wife Sita Devi while they were serving twelve years exile in the forest. Ramchandra, with Lakshman and an army of monkeys vanquished Rava and rescued Sita. After completion of his twelve 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, Dewali 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 a matter of faith and logic does not enter into it.
Children particularly love the festival of Diwali, as it implies sparkling fireworks 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 week in celebration of Diwali.
On the occasion of Diwali ba plants are firmly fixed in the gates of every home. Apparently ba plants are regarded as auspicious and good for 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. The traders know very well which way the wind is blowing and they believe in making hay while the sun shines. We all know that the prices of everything, including the essential commodities are very high in Guwahati market at all times; but in festival times they reach the sky, to our acute distress. We have adjusted our lifestyle 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 years back, are now very expensive. Add 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. Onions, so necessary for making salads and other palatable dishes, seem to have gone beyond the reach of the common people. The price of onion has flabbergasted the customers and it is enough to bring tears to the eyes. So we have to abandon onions from our menu and our cooking may have lost some of its flavour. Even green chillies, supposed to act as appetizers have become costlier. So we have to banish both onions and 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.
Fireworks are inseparable from Diwali celebrations. Road-side makeshift stalls emerge overnight and they are 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 luck. 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.
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 rain or the scorching heat. They live on foot paths or in the railway stations or 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 fireworks from a distance and their joy is not less than that of the children 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? In any case, we already have an idea regarding the disastrous effects of global warming on the earth and its inhabitants, which is happening due to several factors. But at festival times nobody seems to bother about the impending disaster threatening the existence of the earth. It is also true that people, especially 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 sports 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.
Diwali is an occasion for joy and it is always wonderful to see the beaming kids enjoying themselves. Throughout the year we hear of only sad news about diverse things like shooting, stabbing, rape, abductions, extortions etc. The festivals do bring a beam of sunshine to our lives. At such times we forget about all our sufferings and frustrations. Hence I suppose nobody would grudge us a few days joy.Diwali is a kind of religious and social festival, which is celebrated by people belonging to various castes and communities. It strengthens the bond of friendship, which is so necessary in these disturbed times. We think that all our festivals are somehow associated with exuberance, which is not a bad thing. But sobriety too must be observed to lend true significance to any religious festival. Mere pomp and grandeur are not enough, there should be sanctity and devotion as well, without which the festival is likely to be meaningless.
Anyway, the festive season is over and now it is the time for considering the earthly mundane matters like our fincial condition, price rise and other things, which are rather disturbing. All these days we never spared a thought to money matters, since in the festive season we rarely bother about funds and other things. It is no use brooding over such matters. We surely have the liberty to let heart rule the head at such times. Children are a sad lot, as the time has come for their routine work, with examition a month away. During the festive season many people go on holiday to various places in and around the country. I think holidays broaden our minds, strengthen our bodies and sharpen our intelligence. Hence they are absolutely necessary to keep us going. But every day cannot be taken as a holiday. If all work and no play make Jack a dull boy, then the reverse is also equally true. It is time for hard work and let us get down to it without regret. The festive days would surely come again the next year. With that hope in mind we should plunge into our routine work with renewed vigour. Life cannot be all pleasure. It is not a bed of roses all the way and roses are always accompanied by thorns. If we remember that it will be clear to us that pleasure is good only in small doses and pleasure and pain go together. We cannot have one without the other. Life is full of ups and downs. If for some people it is more downs than ups, so what? One has to accept the fact that life cannot be all pleasure and pleasure can be understood only in the context of pain. So now let us face life’s problems with joy and confidence!
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)