Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Childhood Deepavali memories

After Dasara holidays it was Deepavali which we eagerly looked forward to when we were young, in the 1960s and early 70s. It was not solely for the chance to buy and enjoy fireworks, but it really meant a festive atmosphere everywhere. Such was the spirit.

It would begin with buying cloth lengths [cotton only] for all the male members in the family. For me and brother it was for a set of shirt and half pants to be stitched at Tailor Narayana Rao’s shop close to our house. Ready-mades were less preferred, though some shops sold them.
Then it was the purchase of fireworks with our grandfather. Our loudest sounding item was ‘elephant cracker’ with that Red Fort picture on the packet, which exploded with a tolerable sound and there was an odd one that fizzed too, much to our delight! We used to buy just a couple of chains of these but a lot more of those cheap ‘horse crackers’. These were much smaller. Some adventurous boys used to burst them holding in their fingers, while it was concealed into cigarette to explode at the lips – the seniors played this mischievous fun trick. So feeble were these. All crackers in the chain were separated to increase the number instead of burning chains at one go, so that we will have ‘more’ time to spend!

‘Atom bombs’ [now banned, but still manufactured and sold] were not much popular, though ‘Lakshmi cracker’ and ‘China chuvva’ [close equivalents] were bought by us in very small numbers as we grew older – a sense of promotion! But since I have always hated big noise, this was not an item on the list. But we enjoyed it from distant somewhere that reverberated in the city skies. Skies were so silent then, esp. before dawn, except for the disturbed crows and house sparrows [now gone from the region]. I was actually afraid to burst a cracker myself or being close to it!

For the two of us, the expense would be hardly twenty five or thirty rupees at the most. Compare it to the thousands that people spend now! We just bought a few crackers, some sparklers, match sticks, incense sticks [for igniting fireworks], flower pots, threadlike sparklers and ‘ground-wheels’. No rockets and other dangerous things. It was also a common thing to ask others ‘for how many rupees did you buy fireworks?’

The ladies of the house would clean all the copper vessels in the bath and fill with fresh water [24-hour supply then] the previous evening. Mother would exhibit her talent with rice-flour rangoli in front of the house – a beautiful pattern would be drawn. [See my 'crafts in the family' post in this blog - picture]. We were woken up at 4 a.m the next day for oil bath. Already, some cracker noise would be heard at a distance, envious we were not ‘first’ to burst. People were ready with all the enthusiasm to celebrate the festival. Special dishes for lunch, new clothes would be worn and fireworks played.

Boys were curious to know what other boys would burst. It was fun. People did not make much of a show by exchanging greetings for the festival like now. We have come to a state when we wish others on any day –‘Happy Independence day' or 'Happy Ganesh Festival' for example! I don’t remember they did that in the 1970s! Patriotism existed in greater spirit, than now, in spite of not greeting the fellow citizen!

Then, it was less people, less noise. The festival did not have a nuisance value generally. The sky did not choke. Now it chokes. More people, more show, more noise, more poison smoke, more of all the negatives! The festival-enjoyers show least concern to other neighbours or passers-by. The Police stipulate the time for bursting crackers. Yet, nobody listens or heeds to rules showing utter disregard to others in society. Bombs go up at anytime of the day or night with shocking intensity. Smoke fills the air and settles like fog, creating breathing problem esp. to the sensitive. Stars cannot be seen during the festival nights. Also, many accidents take place due to carelessness. It can be very painful. My young brother had burnt his fingers playing with ‘fire’. Accidents should not teach us, we should be forewarned.

There was one fire accident at a house on our Devaparthiva Road. We had been to the Dasara Exhibition [old building] in 1970 or so. By the time we returned home [by walk], we saw people gathered and fire engines standing. On one of the houses, hay was stacked [they owned a couple of cows] on the terrace and a rocket had started a fire. Luckily only a part of the house was gutted. We saw how the firemen worked for the first time.

Scientifically, they say that this festival of lights, Deepavali, is timed when insects are more after the monsoon rains. So this smoke, only when emanated in moderation, helps control the insects. But we are overdoing it to an extent of causing concern to human comfort and environmental pollution, leave alone the insects. It confuses birds and animals as well. Look at the amount of rockets and other colourful fireworks and the amount of poisonous smoke they leave behind.
Are we not harming our own environment in our own little ways? That is not what the previous generation left behind for us. At least now that it is being pointed scientifically the exact reasons for various climatic changes, let us be warned and act wisely. And leave behind, not smoke, but a better environment for the next generation to live in.

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