The only day I used to wake up at 4 am for
A day to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. That's the legend, anyways. But it does not matter today what the actual reason is. Over the past hundreds (thousands) of years, Deepavali is a tradition that is celebrated by the vast majority of India**.
Deepavali is just an excuse. If you are atheist or grew up in a different religion or practice a different one, replace it with a different word that makes more meaning to you. In this article, I will use the word "Deepavali".
Long, long ago, before waking up at 4 am become the norm in my life, Deepavali marked the only day when I'd wake up at 4 am. After the initial grumbling and whining, the first few hours of events and rituals are deeply embedded in my memory. The oil. The bath. The new clothes. The crackers and fireworks. Being together as a family, with the uncles and aunts and grandparents and everyone. In particular, having my grandmother assist me while I burst crackers - her job would be to close my ears as I ran scurrying back after lighting one.
It is a day and tradition that has a lot of fun and joyous memories. I am sure you have a day like that as well. Or quite a few days. Quite a few traditions.
As you grow up, you realise that the noise is horrible. You never truly cared for it. You enjoyed all the other aspects around it though.
You've heard about the child labour but are confused how that can be a thing, coz you go to school and have whatever you need. Privilege etc are things you are oblivious to.
Your dogs are petrified of the noise. They shudder and huddle in corners of your house, under the bed, refusing to eat. It is a nightmare for them. You start to despise the crackers.
Then there's the climate change aspect. The smog and pollution created by this one tradition, while hard to quantify versus the pollution we create by existing, is a bit ridiculous and overwhelmingly obvious as it is visible during and immediately after. You see the streets littered with the aftermath.
All of these factors combine in your head and you decide you are against all of this.
Where do you draw the line?
But what do you stop? Do you stop buying fireworks? Do you stop celebrating? Should you do more and raise awareness about the child labour? Is that still a thing, in this digital age? You realise you remain a wee bit oblivious in your cocoon.
And of course, the plight of the street dogs running away, scared and trying to find a place to get away from it is obvious as you drive around.
As I think about uncomfortable things (finally!), it comes down to what helps me sleep at night. As self-centred as that might seem, that's what it is.
What are my values? What is my stance? On what all?
This is never black or white. It is crude to say if you are not against child labour, you are for it. The spectrum instead can be construed as
- I don't give a shit. I've always burst fireworks and I am going to continue.
- I cannot carry the world's problems. I just want to have my fun.
- I am confused and I don't know what to do. I'll just carry on doing what I normally do but maybe tone it down a bit.
- I am unsure but I can see that (a) the pollution is a factor and (b) I love dogs. So, I will not burst crackers.
- I am well-informed and I'll ensure that my family and my immediate community make informed decisions.
- This is horrible! How can you be blind to all of this? It is my job to yell it out from the rooftops and create change.
The black (#1) or white (#7) has a spectrum in-between. And most of us fall somewhere in between. Even though the world (which falls in between too) keeps trying to put us in one camp or the other.
Where you fall is up to you. Going from 1 to 4 is a big leap. I think we make movements along the spectrum only i.e. step by step. You need to figure out what your values are and take a call. And while as a dog-person, I cannot fathom how someone could be in #1, that's just me being silly.
Keep the tradition. Drop what does not make sense.
There are a lot of wonderful memories associated with this tradition. Throwing all of them out, and throwing out the possibilities of creating new memories is not the answer. At least for me.
Dissociating the bursting of crackers, the noise, the waste from the tradition and crafting a new tradition for you and your family and your friends is an option.
Lunch with family. Gifts. Dinner with friends and kids. More gifts. Spending time together. Creating new memories. Creating new traditions, built on the old ones.
I am the person who is not big on birthdays, today. But what birthdays were as a kid - cake and gifts and all the fuss is about you - need not be replicated. Today, birthdays can just be an excuse for me to hang out with friends or family, or to buy the 39 books that I have on my wish list. Using the tradition and putting a new spin on things is totally possible.
Rewrite what does not make sense. Keep what makes sense.
Maybe it means you have dinner and drinks with friends. Or maybe it means you quit your job and invent a new type of firework that does not make sound or pollute. Or you invent ear muffs for dogs.
Above all, know your values and do your best. If there is something that can be "not okay", ignorance and being oblivious comes close. Don't stick your head into the sand and pretend all is fine.
I'll end this by quoting someone who is a far better writer than I am. From Jordan Peterson,
Every rule was once a creative act, breaking other rules. Every creative act, genuine in its creativity, is like to transform itself, with time, into a useful rule. It is the living interaction between social institutions and creative achievement that keeps the world balanced on the narrow line between too much order and too much chaos. This is a terrible conundrum, a true existential burden. We must support and value the past, ad we need to do that with an attitude of gratitude and respect. At the same time, however, we must keep our eyes open – we, the visionary living – and repair the ancient mechanisms that stabilise and support us when they falter. Thus, we need to bear the paradox that is involved in simultaneously respecting the walls that keep us safe and allowing in enough of what is new and changing so that our institutions remain alive and healthy.
** Because the country is primarily Hindu, the festival is celebrated by the majority of the country. Some of the smaller (in size of community) religions celebrate it as well.