Over the three or so decades of my life, I have seen many Deepavalis come and go (true to my chauvinism, I prefer the South Indian ‘Deepavali’ to the globalised ‘Diwali’)*.
The essence of our festival of lights, I have been variously informed, is to symbolise the victory of light over darkness, of good over evil, and such. So it stayed for many years, as firecrackers blasted the wits out of the demons of darkness and sulphur fumes cauterised flying insects in the air.
Suspended particulate matter notwithstanding, it’s all for the good. Over evil.
More recently, however, it has been about spending and buying. About trashing the old, and celebrating the new. Never mind our ailing banks, our fairy rings of malls and supermarkets and hypermarkets – BIG retail, as we know it – has helped ensure that we have lots of new to buy. So we trash the old, yea, and we trash it good. And we buy, buy, buy more new.
By next year, new becomes old, and old becomes trash. And thus, good and evil live like twins separated at birth. Happily ever after. Or until the world ends. Whichever is sooner.
And what of light and darkness?
It’s relative, isn’t it? Like old and new.
About seven years ago, flying to Bangalore from Mumbai, I would press my nose to the window to see as far as I could. From that redeye flight, all the world looked dark and inky black. Somewhere in the warped horizon, stray patches of light burned like matches dying in an ashtray. Most of our villages, and most of our roads, were just shades of darkness upon a field of darker dark. In a sense, it felt good to imagine that there were places out there in the hinterland that still enjoyed their share of night.
Recently, even that has changed. Two months ago, as I flew back from Mumbai late at night, I stared out at the darkness. And didn’t see it.
It is heartening to know that many more of our villages have electricity. Many more villages have become townships, and many more townships have become towns. And electricity keeps them alive and well. Their roads are thin veins of light creeping deeper and deeper into the surrounding morass of blackness, seeking out its inky heart.
We keep the lights on late into the night. So that darkness has no place in our lives any more.
And light pollution? Oh, is that something we need to worry about?
So this Deepavali, I wish your eyes well. May they crave the dark of night again. May they be able to look up and wonder if Orion and the Pleiades still occupy their rightful places in the sky.
Unless we have blazed them out along with our demons.
Have a blast!
* Postscript: Another dyed-in-the-saadamkolumbu South Indian, Krish Ashok, has defined at some length how Deepavali dropped the pa when it ascended that uncertain territory north of the Vindhyas.