At the break of dawn, I stood by the little lotus pond in front of my hostel, witnessing the magnificent sunrise, set to rhythm by the unabashed chirping of Vellore's birds. And then the ground beneath my feet seemed to almost tremble in fear, disrupting the tranquillity of the preceding moment, as a chain of crackers was sparked to burst by some eager soul in the neighbourhood. All of eighteen years of age, that was my first Deepavali (that's we call it in the southern part of the country) away from home, sans my family. Unsure of how to channelize my new-found freedom, I stayed as close to my family's traditions and teachings as possible. As a docile child, I woke up at 4am (a rite seldom followed by me on other days of the year) to indulge in the cleansing ritual of the day—the oil bath. I found myself gulping down a lemon-sized ball of home-made paste of ginger and jaggery, with eyes tightly shut, as if in an attempt to blind myself to the piquant taste of the healing mixture. A visit to the local temple saw me scurrying alongside a group of zealous girls who wanted to show off their newly acquired ethnic-wear of the season. Clad in a crisp cotton sari, I pinned a heavenly string of jasmine flowers on my plaited hair and headed to the sanctum to offer my prayers and puja.
If one remains engrossed in appeasing Lakshmi, and doesn't pay attention to her twin, an irate Alakshmi might just spew her wrath and cause loss, debt and ill-health.
Amidst the sputtering splinters of fireworks on the sidewalks in the quaint town, I walked from the temple to the hospital, as I had an appointment with the ophthalmologist. As a first year medical student, I learnt that doctors seldom celebrated Diwali the way we do. I soon became friends with my doctor who went on to narrate horrifying tales of cracker-related eye injuries that presented themselves in alarming numbers on Diwali eve, year after year, keeping the medicos extremely busy round the clock. Little did I have to exercise my imagination to comprehend his words, as his pager started buzzing relentlessly during the examination of my eye. He invited me to accompany him to the emergency room where I stood numbed at the sight of some of the goriest scenes I had seen till date. Two teenage boys were carried in by a group of men with anxious faces. The blood stains splattering their bodies and torn silk clothes were not nearly as shocking as the gaping craters on their faces. One of them almost had his left eyeball gouged out, while another had a torn upper eyelid on the right, with the injury extending over to his right ear-lobe. I patiently lent my ears to the wailing grandmother sitting outside the emergency room, and shared her remorse at the boys having not paid attention to her repeated warnings. Since the doctors had to immediately wheel in the boys to the surgical theatre for the requisite repair and correction, I left the hospital.
I was to take part in the annual Diwali celebration that evening in my college campus, where music, dance, food and fireworks added to the festive fervour. The faces of the young boys in the hospital remained so vivid in my eyes that I could hardly enjoy the fireworks that evening. I kept asking myself that just as the beautiful fireworks had turned deadly to those boys, did every good thing in life come with a possible adversity too? How do we drive out the yin to embrace the yang of such things then? A legend in Hindu mythology about Goddess Lakshmi goes on to establish the existence of Alakshmi—the inauspicious twin sister of the goddess. Diwali rituals in certain northern and central parts of the country include worship involving curious ungodly articles such as brooms, sieves etc. which symbolize Alakshmi who rides with the goddess of prosperity. The legend goes on to say that one must be aware of Alakshmi and politely ask her to go away in order to ward off misfortune. If one remains engrossed in appeasing Lakshmi, and doesn't pay attention to her twin, an irate Alakshmi might just spew her wrath and cause loss, debt and ill-health. As a metaphor, it gives the perfect answer to my queries which arose on that Diwali day—understand the risks involved and act mindfully, before you plunge into any activity, including bursting crackers.
Chinese firecrackers may not burn a hole in your pocket, but may cost you a dear one's life.
China is credited with the invention of gun powder and fireworks, with the available historical evidence dating nearly 2000 years back. The initial use of pyrotechnics was destructive in nature and confined to wars and military operations. Soon the entertainment potential of explosives was discovered with the addition of various metallic salts such as iron, copper, barium, magnesium etc to the basic explosive compounds— the resultant chrominant sparks and flames turned the explosion into a visual treat. This blast from the past is particularly relevant on this Diwali, as we have imposed a ban on the low-cost Chinese fireworks which use unstable chlorate salts of potassium that can result in dangerous mishaps more frequently than the usually used stable nitrate salts. These crackers may not burn a hole in your pocket, but may cost you a dear one's life.
Apart from accidental injuries, the systemic impacts such as the deleterious effect on respiratory health, as well as noise-induced hearing loss and cognitive impairment have been proven beyond doubt. As animal lovers and environmental activists wage a silent war against fireworks to help us breathe in clean air on this festival, let us conscientiously realize that we have umpteen reasons to go cracker-free and not carefree this Diwali.