The days leading up to Diwali were marked by the lilting fragrance of milk and sugar simmering away on the stove alternatively followed by the tantalizing aroma of fried crispies filling the house. The excitement and anticipation built up slowly with several rounds to the market to buy crisp new shimmery dresses and crackers. The actual day dawned with the air thick with winter-y fog. The sesame oil mixed with peppercorns combatted the outside chillness, working its way into the recesses of the hair and pores of the body, lending warmth, sheen, and softness. The hot water bath before day-break with a background score of fireworks set off in staccato rhythm in the neighbourhood shook us off the remains of slumber on the D-day; a culmination of all that we kids had been waiting for weeks up till now.
The childhood memories of Diwali come back to me as I'm eager to create similar sentiments for R. As I wait for him to come back from school, I wonder how much of the significance of festivals is imbibed at an educational abode and if the percolation of the nuances of our heritage is all but left to the family and social community. As though on cue, R comes back from school and during our usual after-school conversation casually mentions learning about lesser crackers and more sweets for Diwali. Interestingly, he seemed to be more informed about how Halloween is celebrated and how he's excited to be dressed as a ghost. Apparently, his seniors and more knowledgeable peers had taken care to keep him abreast of the current trend.
I struggle to fathom my own emotions. Yes, certain celebrations need to evolve and going green is the need of the hour. I also concede that initiating and sustaining eco-friendliness, water conservation, waste management or gender-equity in a country that has been infected, since decades, with patriarchy and apathetic civic sense, is a gargantuan task and it would certainly help if individuals hold hands and bring about a revolution to set right the skewed nature of our social structure. Why, then, did I sense a tinge of annoyance engulfing me?
I'm embittered by the self-righteous tone of certain sections of the media that gathers momentum only on selective days. The said societal changes require a lifestyle and mindset change that cannot be achieved by pointing accusatory fingers at occasional practices. It's comical to assume that by conserving water on Holi, by not observing Karwachauth, or by not bursting crackers on 2 days in a year, we can transform the society. Rules are to be followed all year long and exceptions made on certain days. Interestingly, it's quite the other way round with daily routine marked by an indiscriminate lifestyle and the vigil being heightened and tightened when there's a festival to be celebrated. The height of irritation for me was to watch foreign TV actors in a commercial against noisy crackers.
Worshipping deities, following practices and customs, and celebrating festivals in a specific manner have a certain significance and should not be trivialized or distorted by a selected few to influence a large society. Social campaigns have a certain role to play and they are effective because the message is delivered at a constant pace and intensity that slowly corrodes into the staid mindset and starts to take effect. To that extent, these are extremely powerful and need to be used carefully.
The 'secular' campaigns I see these days are extremely unfair. Masquerading as messiahs and instrumentalists of a better and advanced society, they single out certain communities, ridiculing and deriding the very nature and fabric of their set-up. How else do you explain our inclination to celebrate a new and foreign custom with absolute surrender and happiness, even as we magically turn into intellectuals and skeptics to question the basis of rituals that have been handed down to us for years now? When one faith observes month-long fasts in order to secure a place in heaven and then cuts open an animal's throat as a mark of its traditions and beliefs, it is said to be cultural freedom and even finds acceptance among other communities because, of course, to each his own. However, when it comes to the customs of another faith, one that is still followed by a majority in the country, there are extensive debates, opinion slapping, and shaming.
I calm the waves of restlessness that threaten to rise within and drown me and decide to follow my instinct and rules. My child will follow as I lead by example. I may not have a lot on hand myself to pass on but I seek to preserve whatever is and inspire R to find the answers I may not have. I look beyond my apprehensions and dilemmas and I notice with relief and hope that my generation is not doing away with the festivities, yet. There are like-minded people who take pride in their faith, want to safeguard the traditions with sensibility and strive to make it happen for the next generation.