Usually, I wake up to the sound of birds. As noisy as my city can be, it allows for such luxuries. But in two days, my playlist for the wee morning hours will drastically change. Because people will be celebrating Diwali – the Festival of Lights. Every year, around this time, they become a discourteous lot. Armed with fireworks, they act like kamikaze arsonists. By exercising archaic cultural rights, they turn the neighborhood into a battleground. Not just for me but every other species – stray, domestic or wild.
Despite all the smiling and cheering, my city paints a grim picture. The air is thick with the stench of harmful gas. Plant life-forms rot because of toxic substances. Birds hide in their nests. Animals run scared. The fortunate ones find shelter under sofas. The rest shake, like autumn leaves, frightened and helpless. Roaming the streets, they sniff for some sign of humanity.
It resembles a scene from a low-budget disaster movie.
A long time ago, I was fascinated by fireworks. Even after I heard about the business of bonded child labor, I was excited about the ear-splitting celebration. I wasn’t going to give up on it just because children in my age group, far away from where I lived, were victims of economic oppression. It was also a matter of prestige back in the day. The house that was most likely to burn itself to the ground had most the number of envious onlookers.
Nobody really told us the firework displays were that harmful. They seemed dangerous only when we suffered third-degree burns from premature explosions. But, I wasn’t repulsed by them.
Some were scarier than the rest. There was one called the atom bomb that was loud as a hammer to the eardrum. Another had 10,000 tiny bombs exploding relentlessly, one after the other. Only later I realized these were terrible excuses to flaunt one’s festive mood, considering all the damage done.
Nowadays, people are adopting a greener frame of mine. More importantly, school authorities are telling the students about the harsh realities. They have figured out that Diwali isn’t about getting together and creating a ruckus. And how bursting crackers is far more dangerous ritual than haphazardly flying kites.
But still, there isn’t nearly enough who say ‘no’ to crackers. Last year, many animals were injured. The roads were littered with burnt papers and plastic material. And the nights were drunk on ugly noises. Some still claim that bursting crackers is an uncompromising part of the country’s tradition. I am unsure what to tell them. I don’t want them to suffer from third-degree burns or anything. I just hope they understand the importance of being decent human beings.
It is a case of life or death for some species, including our own.
So, please turn the volume down. It isn’t the festival of noise. Try to not hurt anyone by being irresponsible about the way you celebrate Diwali. Our generation may not have started the fire that is causing irrevocable damage to the environment. But we are pouring gasoline on it by being uncooperative and disharmonious.
If you live in Chennai and happen to come across a wounded animal over the next few days, please contact the rescue helplines, as mentioned below.
A festival of lights
turned into a carousel of noise,
with streets littered with
kamikaze teenagers carrying
explosive toys, sponsored by
frustrated men acting like 12-year-old boys
as polluted skies cough up
dirty egg-white clouds
bleached in murky turquoise.
(Photographs: Vedanthangal, Masinagudi and Kodaikanal)