Happy Diwali. Two short words. A lifetime of memories. As a child, I was the most excited about this festival. Despite it falling sometimes around examination time, this was one festival where parents did not impose restrictions on the hours or type of enjoyment and celebration. The firecrackers creating light and sound this Diwali brought back fond memories of how I celebrated the festival when I was a child. A lot about the festivities and ritual has evolved and changed over the years.
For me, Diwali was a harbinger of everything new. A week before Diwali, my parents were visited by people who I had never seen before – friends they had not met in a long time, colleagues from work, relatives (some three to six degrees removed in blood ties) and of course service providers and vendors. All of them carried at least a box of sweets. The meetings were short and sweet with no performance expectations from kids. Just a very quick round of introductions over a cup of tea and the ubiquitous mithai. I used to judge our guests on the kind of boxes they brought and the kind of sweets contained in the boxes. Some were plain boring, some became my favorites, some were the new ideas guys and some great mixers and matchers.
The newness was in the umpteen shopping trips we made in the week leading up to Diwali. One trip was to buy clothes for the children. But I didn’t particularly enjoy trying out so many clothes in different shops to get the right fit. The most exciting trip was to buy firecrackers. I remember when sparklers went from plain white to colored — it was like how life changed when B&W TV gave way to color TV. The type of crackers one purchased was tantamount to our rites of passage. I considered myself an adult when I stopped buying the snake tablets, the pencil sparklers and the small phirkis/chakris. Rockets, cones (anars) and bigger phirkis that blasted after their colorful performances were the new things.
Then there were the bombs. I started with the humble pistol shot strings, went on to the smaller bombs and then to bigger and more noisy bombs. I remember the smaller bombs had pictures of Lakshmi on the rolled paper and the bigger bombs had pictures of half-clad Bollywood actresses – no pun intended. You purchased bigger bombs to show the family and the world that you had more bravado than they thought. There was the telephone bomb, the train bomb, which slid on a thread before it burst, the sutli bomb, the hand grenade, ladis (of thin and fat bombs) with a hundred sounds in one piece, the whistling rockets, and the Das Kadam bomb, which moved some ten steps before it blasted.
The other excitment was in the diyas. From the simple clay diyas to ethnic village craft and designer gel diyas, they brought the glamor to the celebration and festivities. The advent of LED lights took away the elbow grease that came with positioning the candles and saved the puny candle from being snuffed out by the breeze, which marks the month of Ashwin.
The colorful rangoli itself went designer. For the creatively challenged there were rangoli stencils which helped produce the best floor art possible. Torans of marigold and banana leaves also could not escape the innovation wave. Sparkling stones, peacock feathers, beads, sequins, satin and lace, all transformed the welcome symbols for Lakshmi at the threshold. The customary prayers too have undergone a change, with a readymade prayer kit complete with idols of Lakshmi, Vishnu and Ganesh and mantra CDs.
For me, Diwali remains a source of inspiration, a new fount of creativity, stoked by innovation in different aspects of the celebration. Each child deserves to enjoy all the dimensions, without pressure from parents to play less for fear of pollution and health hazards. It is in the spirit of originality which Diwali represents that our children be given noiseless and smoke-free crackers.
I imagine shooters that write messages and the community coming together to share messages in the sky wall of this ancient, cultural and social ‘site’. I imagine recyclable rockets that after an amazing light display come back to their launchers to be used again the following year. I imagine RFID and remote-controlled crackers that ‘meet’ other such crackers in the sky to create an even bigger display of color and light.
Diwali may be over, but its spirit of imaginativeness must live on.
(The writer is managing consultant of The Key Consumer Diagnostics Pvt Ltd, a Mumbai-based qualitative research company)