A friend posted this on her Facebook and it really touched my heart, mostly because it echoes what Diwali really means to me. It's not about the loud crackers or how much you spend at gambling… it's about the little things you can do to put a smile on someone's face. My friend, Yogita Bhayana wrote:
"A week before Diwali, keep your car stocked with small boxes of sweets, chocolates, crayons, small toys, ear-rings or any other small knick-knacks that can be useful. Gift them to the boys who fill up petrol at petrol pumps, the old cobbler who sits under a tree in your neighbourhood, the girls who sell toys/balloons at traffic signals, the tailor who does your shirt buttons/trouser alterations, kids who beg on the roads, the lady who sits at the street side with a wicker basket of fresh vegetables, the artisan selling clay lamps and diyas, the people who collect your trash... smile and wish them a very happy Diwali. The smile that lights up their faces at your unexpected gesture is more illuminating than a 1,000 electric lamps!! This Diwali, light a life and pass it on."
This sentiment on social media becomes beautiful if it translates into action. It certainly had me stocking up my car with goodies and I didn't stop there. I have sent it out to all my friends with instructions to spread the word. Let's not think about impressing our rich friends by circulating the same Diwali gifts, but let us give some gifts to the under-privileged. Why am I saying this? Because quite frankly I can never emphasise enough how we need to cut back on crackers and other things that are toxic for our city. Not because I am a damp squib who doesn't like it when my nephews and nieces burst crackers on Diwali, but because we live in different times. Cheap Chinese crackers have flooded the Indian market, despite the Centre's ban on them. These crackers are both dangerous and illegal because the environmental hazards are huge.
These crackers have not met the standard tests of safety that is imposed on those manufactured locally. They may be cheaper but are very dangerous because they contain an inferior quality potassium chlorate and perchlorates that are banned in India because it's not at all suitable for the Indian climate. As a result, the toxic haze over Indian cities every Diwali leaves residents gagging for oxygen. I myself have been suffering bad throat andlung infections for the last two months, I have had to take a daily dose of antibiotics, and have done two courses already! There are eco-friendly crackers made from recycled paper. The noise produced by these crackers is also within the decibel limits set by the Central Pollution Control Board.
Next on my list, this Diwali are the animals who share our planet. Let's think about Shreu, our neighborhood piebald, who cannot stop shivering and hides under the bed or the car every time a string of loud crackers go off. A few sparrows have begun to return to Delhi, scaring them off or literally killing them with loud crackers is not the ideal way to spend the festival of lights. Let Lakshmi in with Diyas, lights and maybe a few legally obtained crackers that do not kill half the population of tiny birds that wing their way to Delhi for the winters. Nearby Bharatpur is visited by a variety of birds like pelicans, spoonbills, painted storks, egrets, ducks, terns and ibis that come to the lake in the sanctuary. It is important to reduce the amount of noise pollution around Delhi to ensure that these birds are not scared off. Take a leaf out of the book of the villagers of Perambur in Tamil Nadu who have decided to abstain from bursting firecrackers for the last ten years, so that bats and birds around their
area do not get scared. Their village elder only allows sparklers and toy guns in the village. While Delhi may not be able to match that kind of restraint, we can certainly try to cut back on the number of explosives and opting for those ecofriendly crackers I mentioned earlier. Other things that you can do for mother earth this Diwali, is use earthen lamps and diyas, go shopping with your own jute or cloth bags and avoid the plastic bags the stores may offer you, technically they have been banned. Use natural colours for the Rangoli like coloured pulses, fresh flowers and bright yellow turmeric and red kumkum. Use the bio-degradable plates and glasses that are all the rage these days at all your parties. Instead of gifting cut flowers, gift a plant this Diwali. Think out of the box and don't go with anything that is toxic this Diwali.
Our family has always insisted on a simple Diwali puja that was egalitarian and inclusive, besides emphasizing on giving and sharing. These days I hear of locality boys blowing up their parents' hard-earned money on thousands of rupees worth of firecrackers that just go up in smoke and create more pollution and noise in their wake. It is worth the risk of being unpopular with our boys and men, and it is time to send out a message of being more responsible about our environment. Write a cheque for the flood victims in Kerala instead of blowing it up on crackers, that is what I am telling my nieces and nephews this year. Let the good triumph over the evil in a real way. I hope that our dear readers will take a little time to make this Diwali different and special by showing that we care for your young and elderly, those in need and of course our animals, birds and plants. Happy Diwali to you all!
The writer is the chairperson of the AICC grievance cell...