. . .because critics also include devout Hindus, who actually want to go back to the simpler celebrations of yore
As someone who enjoyed bursting all kinds of `bombs’ during Diwali till well into my late teens, as someone who initiated her nephew into lighting crackers, I have had little patience with calls for a cracker-free Diwali. The only restriction I was willing to entertain was to stop loud fireworks after, say, 10 pm.
I have had lots of run-ins with pro-ban people, countered their arguments about atmospheric pollution by pointing to the fumes belched out by vehicles and telling the smokers among them to first stub out their cigarettes. When they raged against the noise pollution, I have told them to first ask for bans on use of loudspeakers by temples, mosques, all-night jagratas, wedding parties and, now, increasingly, birthday parties of toddlers. I have told them to chill, let children enjoy their childhood, just like they enjoyed theirs and not be spoilsports. And then told them about the crackers I just got for my nephew.
But I have not accused them of being part of a grand design to ridicule and demean Hinduism, as Shefali Vaidya’s article and several status updates and comments on my Facebook page have done.
Vaidya’s article and the Facebook posts I mention have sought to derive a trend from all the criticisms about the way Hindu festivals are being celebrated these days. This, they say, is nothing short of a larger attack on Hindu culture by a rootless, westernized, pseudo-liberal, left-leaning, minority-appeasing elite which are largely the products of missionary schools.
But just like the Modi-BJP-RSS haters lump all those who criticize them into one big Right Wing box, those claiming a larger conspiracy against Hinduism are lumping everyone criticizing the modern-day celebrations into another big Hindu Haters box.
What this over-simplification misses out is that the critics include many devout Hindus, who actually want to go back to the simpler celebrations of yore. Many of the arguments I have had about Diwali crackers have been with South Indians very particular about Ganga snanam at the crack of dawn and North Indians who are very particular about their Lakshmi pujas. A few sparklers and small crackers are fine, they have said, what is the need for ‘atom and hydrogen bombs’ and rockets that could land on someone’s balcony? To lump such people with Hindu-baiters is absolutely uncalled for.
Just as it is absolutely ridiculous is to caricature people who talk about how animals are affected by the noise of crackers as meat-lovers one step short of cannibalism. Do only meat-eaters keep dogs as pets or are concerned about them?
What those fulminating against the criticism of the modern celebrations of festivals miss out is that many of the concerns about pollution have to do with the scale of celebrations. Vaidya’s article touches upon this in passing when she writes “of course, with time, people have changed their way of celebrating the festivals, and yes, some course correction is definitely needed.”
She herself mentions how the clay Ganesh idol symbolises our creation from the five elements to which we must return. But are clay idols not being edged out by those made of Plaster of Paris and coloured with plastic paint? And do these not pollute the water? There is a similar criticism about Durga idols and their immersion. Earlier, not only were the Ganesh and Durga idols made of eco-friendly products, they were also fewer in number. Now with cut-throat competition among local communities, the number of ecologically-harmful idols has increased. What is wrong if this is pointed out and people asked to switch to eco-friendly idols?
The criticism about water consumption during Holi happened only in Maharashtra in the context of drought-like conditions and was hardly an attack on the festival itself. Incidentally, that is one festival the much-hated pseudo liberals and leftists love to celebrate. But even here, there is a growing resistance to the use of chemicals-ridden colours and plastic paint. How can one object to this and see it as a conspiracy against Hinduism?
Atmospheric and noise pollution during Diwali was not an issue when decibel levels of crackers and bombs were lower than they are now and when people had less money to burn, pardon the pun. It is now. Even a pataka-lover like me cringes at the hazaar wali laddis, is furious when these are set off well after 11 pm and when a stray rocket lands in a godown and burns to cinders old clothes collected for distribution to the poor. I now look for excuses to get away from Delhi every Diwali. Does that make me a Hindu-hating, pseudo-liberal?
The growing criticism about festivals has more to do with crass commercialism that has set in and the gaudy display of wealth - the garish ecologically-unfriendly idols that are immersed in rivers and waters, the literal burning of money during Diwali, the glamourisation of misogynist fasts like karva chauth. In all this, the true spirit and rationale of festivals has disappeared. As I mentioned earlier, much of the criticism of all this is coming from within the Hindu community, by people who want to go back to this true spirit. What is the basis on which these people are being sneered at as being part of a conspiracy against Hindu festivals? How does this become an attack on Hindu festivals and Hinduism, in any case?
Vaidya writes: “As a practising Hindu, one has every right to wish to change the way a festival is being celebrated, but don’t let anyone disrespect your way of life.” My appeal to her and others who share her views: Don’t disrespect everyone who criticises the way festivals are being celebrated by calling them festival shamers. Just because the Modi-BJP-RSS baiters also speak on these lines, don’t lump us with them and tell us to keep quiet. Change will come from within only if we too are allowed to have our say.
Image credits: Saad Faruque