Diwali: An excuse to burn money?

Suma Nagaraj
The Water Cooler

I dread the Diwali season. Not only does the smoky haze in the air make me sick and the loud booms cause me to go into fight-or-flight mode, I abhor the gleeful indulgence in throwing a lit firecracker at someone's feet (okay, mine) and seeing them almost jump out of their skin (okay, me) that strangers seem to think as laugh-out-loud hilarious.

I gave up on firecrackers at least two decades ago. When I was a child, the only things I'd help myself to from the giant bag of fireworks that would land up in the verandah were the sparklers and the snake pills. Remember them? The trail of ash they left behind looked like a long column of egestive material that was as long as the snake it came out of and smelled even more vile. But back then, life was all about symbolism and we'd burn those darn things in order to say goodbye to evil spirits, bad omens and the year passed.

Many people are suggesting that this year's Diwali has been rather 'mute', for want of a better word, but before I'm thankful for the statistically receding interest in adding to noise and air pollution, I'd like to ask: how is air that chokes and streets strewn with burned effigies of one's hard-earned money a celebration of light? Isn't that what Diwali is supposed to be about? Up north, people celebrate the second day (us southies don't) as Lakshmi Puja. How is it even remotely Lakshmi Puja if all you do is light fire to her?

Here's an informative read on how fireworks pollute the air around us. As I walked home last evening, I saw weary/wary parents and elders standing a few feet away from their children who were playing with firecrackers. Given the horror stories that surround the making of these firecrackers, isn't it time we started educating our children about the hazards that underpaid children are exposed to in firework factories like Sivakasi?

Here's a video that takes a cold, hard look at pollution levels in Delhi after Diwali celebrations

The larger question I'm trying to ask here is - are we, in the name of tradition, not questioning certain dumb practices that have been passed on through the ages? Kolkata passed a bill to ban fireworks that break the 65 decibel limit more than a decade ago, though there have been reports of breaking that particular law during Pujo and Diwali. Should other states follow suit?