Religious festivals are awesome. They bring people together to indulge in food, sweets, shiny new clothes, merriment and perhaps if there’s still time – God.
As a South Indian growing up in Dubai, my exposure to festivals like Holi, Navrati and Diwali were somewhat limited. Our celebrations were quite simple. Wake up, do a simple puja, stuff our faces with home-cooked vadas drenched in sambhar, eat my mother’s legendary badam halwa cooked for hours in enough ghee to build nice forts in one’s arteries, sit in a comatose state on the sofa and watch special Tamil programs.
Although I love these calm days that bring about a renewed energy in our homes, one festival I’ve never been able to come to terms with is Holi. Whether it was watching the film Damini at an impressionable age or the idea of being amidst a crazed crowd smothered in color or just a general distaste for not having control over how play amongst adults is regulated – this day is not for me.
And then there’s the other aspect of it – after everyone is done splashing about in color, who cleans up after?
Yes, I am quite aware of that I’m being a party pooper and most of you must be thinking, ‘Why this chick gotta rain on a marvelous parade that celebrates color and fun?’
It’s because I spent all morning walking across the city, seeing heaps of empty colored powder packets, stained walls and roads, . The kids are back to school, people are rushing to work and it is the municipality workers in green uniforms sweeping the remnants of this ‘Spring festival’ into little piles. Isn’t it terribly unfair that a few individuals have to bear the burden of others’ exuberance?
Then there’s the aspect of water shortage. Summer has kicked in and there is a major scarcity of ground water, especially Karnataka. The motor for our bore-well is running for six hours a day and we’re still barely able to fill the tank to the quarter mark. Every day water tankers crowd the streets, stray dogs run about panting heavily in search of stagnant puddles to hydrate from. Yet the gravity of this shortage hasn’t stopped us from hurling buckets of colored water at each other.
Being able to celebrate responsibly and sustainably is still something we are unable to do. This is mostly because religious sentiments are so deeply entwined into festivals that anyone attempting to spew logic bears the brunt of offense . Whether it is regulating fireworks on Diwali or mass animal slaughter on Eid, the ‘yeh sirf ek din ke liye’ emotion trumps over logic like environmental damage and health concerns.
Why can’t we be mindful of this ‘ek din’? If we wouldn’t do it in our homes, then why on the streets? Is it okay to teach our children that someone else will clean up after us?
We need to do better at separating customs from religion so it becomes easier to question the elements that are inconsiderate to others and the environment. I do recognize that festivals are important not just from a traditional but a socio-economic perspective as well where little businesses depend on the increased demand for festive items to stay afloat.
Perhaps the best thing about us as Indians is also the worst thing. No matter what problems unite or divide us, we’re able to set them aside on such special days and thrive in an incredible spirit of shared happiness. Even if it means forgetting that we’re heading to a state where we may not have enough water to wash our butts someday!
Despite being somewhat of a desi Grinch, I find joy in watching children squealing as they spray each other with loaded pichkaris. They have time to learn and be little agents of change. Yesterday my usually shy with new people daughter played with a completely random group of kids on the way back from her art class. As we walked back home, she kept asking me to name the colors on her face. ‘All the colors in the world!’, I told her and she laughed proudly. Perhaps she will grow to love this festival more than I do.
Holi represents color, chaos, victory of good over evil and the unabashed ability to seek thrill in public spaces. But none of this matters if we don’t do better at striving for balance between celebrating and caring for what happens after. All our ‘ek din’s will add up to leave a very sorry, stained country for those sweet little kids to languish in.