By Punya Srivastava November 2013 For a festival celebrating the victory of goodness over evil, Diwali itself has a dark side – its horrific levels of noise and pollution, says Punya Srivaastava, while pleading for a more wholesome celebration This Diwali can we opt for a celebration free of the noise and pollution of fireworks? Here’s why. In a holistic world, the choices we make have to work for everybody. Bursting crackers do not work for everyone. Our enjoyment is hard won – for the noise traumatises animals, infants, senior citizens, the ailing and just about anyone who is averse to loud noises. That being so, we are obliged to revisit our preference for loud firecrackers. Could we at least settle for the milder flower pots and sparklers that are noise free? Consider it! Besides, firecrackers have never been part of this festival traditionally. They became mainstream only after the Indian Explosives Act – 1940 came into the picture, which licensed the manufacture of firecrackers. They were then introduced and woven into the Diwali story as metaphors for ‘driving away evil’. What’s to stop us from recreating the story once again and allowing darkness or evil to dissipate simply by the lighting of a lamp? After all, the sages have always maintained that evil or darkness do not have an independent existence – they are merely proof of the absence of goodness or light. In the presence of light, darkness vanishes and in the presence of goodness, evil dissipates. We do not need noise to drive home the point. What a waste! Fortunately, many are veering around to this point of view. Shubhra Tyagi, a third-year designing student from FDDI, Noida, sees crackers as a waste of money. “My family, friends and I have completely gone off crackers, simply because we see it as a waste of hard-earned money. It’s just like setting a wad of currency notes on fire. Why would I do that, instead of buying something nice for myself or for my loved ones?” she asks. Even more significant, the pollution caused by crackers is hazardous for our environment and health. Thick smog, mostly in metros, blankets the atmosphere for days at end. According to the data collected by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology last year, the level of pollution was 2.5 times higher than the critical or very unhealthy level experienced during the previous Diwali. According to experts, the pollution level increases by 30 per cent to 40 per cent each year on Diwali, varying slightly in different regions. Deeksha, an NGO working for environment conservation, has been holding workshops in various schools in the NCR and in Chandigarh on the importance of a pollution-free Diwali. The volunteers hold interactive sessions with small groups of students and talk to them about the short- and long-term ill effects of the air pollution caused by fire crackers. “The aim is not to sermonise as students resist sermons, but interact with them through games and quizzes to make them realise, in a subtle way, the desired lessons,” says Tripat Parmar, Director, Deeksha. A pet’s peeve Swati Bhasin, a media professional and a companion to two Labradors, is a witness to the trauma they suffer come Diwali. “Both my pets get so unnerved by the burst of crackers during Diwali, that one of them, Zoe, even starts biting us in her anxiety. Generally, we plug their ears with cotton to reduce the impact. I also do not take them out for that period as I have no idea when a kid may decide to let off a bottle rocket or firecracker,” she shares. The danger is far more immediate in the case of street animals. Sharing that her brother takes care of some of them, she says, “Our hearts go out to them because we can’t always ensure their safety and they cannot be always guarded from the fireworks in the streets. Sometimes, they get injured and all we can do is tend to their wounds. It’s then that we feel a little helpless,” she adds. Alternative celebrations A friend, who gave up her lucrative IT job a few months back in order to do something meaningful in life, shares her plan of celebrating the festival differently. “Since the last few years, I have stopped splurging on festivals, especially Diwali. After quitting my job, I have found a sense of peace in knowing that I am not living it up when many around me go to sleep with empty stomachs, even during a festival. This year I am going to celebrate Diwali with the children and volunteers of The Rhythm of Life Foundation – an organisation working for employment generation for underprivileged girls and child welfare. No amount of fireworks can match the spark and twinkle that their eyes have while painting little diyas and greeting cards to put up for sale,” says Niharika Verma. “Diwali means at least two days off for every member of my family. It’s a time to get together, share, talk and simply have fun,” says Ravi Kumar, area manager with Tata Telecoms who has a working wife, a school going kid and parents living in another city. “We rarely get the whole family together. When we do, I want to spend my time enjoying their company, not stuff my lungs with smoke and hear the cacophony of loud bombs!” he adds. However, his 10-year-old daughter is fond of playing with sparklers. “I have started buying eco-friendly firecrackers since last two years. I bought my daughter a butterfly cracker which goes in circles once lighted and produces different colours. The best part is that it is totally sound-and pollution-free,” he shares. In my own neighbourhood, for several years we have been celebrating a community Diwali. All the families donate a nominal amount of money for the celebrations. After the customary puja in their homes, people gather for an hour or two of harmonious get together, enjoy sweets and a restricted display of fireworks. This way, money splurged on firecrackers is cut down by a huge margin, putting a lid on the noise and pollution. Maybe it’s just a beginning but as the Chinese point out, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. So here’s to a Diwali, high on fun and celebration and low on noise and pollution.
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