I get nostalgic very easily, and right now — since we are still talking about the poisonous clouds left hanging in the air of the National Capital Region by the festival of Deepavali — my mind goes back to the time when I was a child and, like every other child, would look forward to the purchase of firecrackers.
The crackers would be purchased a few days before Deepavali so that they could be put out in the sun. Exposure to sun, it was believed, made them more potent. Purchases would also sometimes include toy guns that came with potash-filled cork pellets and paper strips. It helped that the colony we lived in was built around a playground, so whatever one did became a public spectacle. It is no fun, after all, to burst crackers or to light sparklers if no one is watching.
We had a neighbour, Mr. Mishra, whose family would not light up even a phuljhari on Deepavali night, but two nights later, he would call the entire neighbourhood out to watch his fireworks. He worked in the ordnance factory and had a colleague who was an expert in making the anaar or ‘flowerpot’ — a large ball of clay stuffed with all the required chemicals. Each anaar — he would buy only two — lasted for several minutes, bringing great joy to the spectators. We had another neighbour, Mr. Singh, who on Deepavali night always set aside two of those powerful green bombs, so that they could be burst at two in the morning. The idea, of course, was to wake up the entire neighbourhood and say Happy Deepavali once again.
Nothing untoward happened the next morning: the sun still shone brightly and the evening air was still fragrant from the flowering of the devil’s tree. No one coughed, no one sneezed. That was the kind of Deepavali I grew up with, and if Nature provided mankind with a go-back button, I would gladly revisit my childhood every Deepavali till my dying day — totally ignoring the say-no-to-crackers caution that has been flooding my Facebook newsfeed in recent years.
I mean, what’s life without some fireworks — figuratively as well as literally. Look at the unadulterated joy on a five-year-old child’s face when he/she holds a sparkler. Do you really want to turn that smile into a frown by telling the child: “Look, you are burning your father’s money”; “Look, you are releasing harmful chemicals in the air”; or, “Look, your poor dog is getting scared.” And how long do the fireworks last anyway: three hours at the most?
If Delhi is under a pall of poisonous air today, that is because of its own doing. The entire National Capital Region is like a tumbler that can hold 500ml of water and is already 490ml full. Pour 20ml into it and the water spills over: everybody blames the 20ml for the spillover, but no one really notices the 490ml already there.
If one night of Deepavali can turn the air of Delhi 10 times more dangerous to breathe, you can imagine how polluted it already is — and nothing is being done about it. Before you preach say-no-to-crackers, how about selling your car and buying four bicycles instead — one for each member of the family? Once you start cycling to work, you will find the toxins reducing, not only from the air but also from your body. You will save not only on fuel but also on medication for hypertension and diabetes. But the big question is: Will you do that?