his is the time of the year all Hindus wait for – houses are spring cleaned weeks in advance, sweets are made, customary gifts are exchanged, etc. Grandiose is the theme of the festival’s new dresses – people drop in at each other’s places, huge get-togethers happen for Lakshmi pooje performed by women, followed by plenty of feasts. And of course, the crackers. Now I don’t quite know what ancient history or religion has to do with cracker bursting – but we’ve all been mighty excited about it since we were kids – till many of us grew out of it.
The crackers come with a huge story behind them – of the many children forced to work with unsafe materials, working in unsafe factories, of the many fire accidents that are reported, of the many more accidents that go unreported, of the shameful salaries they get, of the heavy price they pay – risking their health, life and limb. Now if this isn’t enough reason for people to stop using crackers, I don’t know what else could be. Surely, people who burst crackers despite knowing the abovesaid, won’t be dissuaded by the idea of noise pollution, or the distress it causes to humans, and especially to animals. My infant is already being jolted out of sleep – the cracker bursting sometimes starts earlier than the festival itself. The sound scares the living daylights out of her – it’s an explosion, for god’s sake. She wakes up screaming and crying – can’t expect her to understand “it’s merely fireworks”. Given the decent density of infants in any pocket of India – people bursting crackers should perhaps display some consideration. I will not even mention the sheer physical distress that animals must be going through – their range of hearing is much higher than ours, and they hear everything a lot louder than we do.
The number of accidents that happen at this time of the year is shocking – and many more go unreported. Children suffer burns, injuries, scars, and of course, ear injuries. So many children are rendered permanently deaf – for your ear drum is a tiny, delicate membrane – stretched taut. I wonder why people think the thrill of lighting crackers is worth the risk. There are toddlers and infants in half the households in India. The lifetime of suffering is not worth the thrill – and somehow no amount of highlighting this seems to work. There’s always a fresh crop of youngsters, waiting to have their go at the crackers. There’s even some kind of graduation scheme – starting with the small ones – and when you become ‘big’, go for the loud ones. The noise levels in the proximity of such a cracker can be close to 120 -140 dB. How loud is that? Actually, it’s really hard to tell you that without resorting to swear words for accurate expression. If you think that’s not to worry about – the explosion is just for a brief second, hear this – people join such things till this chain extends all around an apartment complex, and then you’ll hear this for 10 mins. Experience your ears ringing after that – and other sounds seem strangely tolerable, because your threshold of hearing just suffered a temporary shift. A few of these in succession, and your hearing will be just a little bit worse off than it was. You’ll only know in your later years.
On a more rational note, clearly, this is a modern phenomenon – this cracker bursting – Prince Rama didn’t have these in his days, I’m guessing. This is more of a social thing – one that really should be done away with.
Now, in case I’m sounding like a doomsday soothsayer, I must clarify – I love festivals myself. I’m very fond of the enthusiasm they bring, of all the sweets and savouries that go around, of all the customary meeting and greeting, of all the new clothes, of people turning up in their finery, of all the long-lost relatives we get to meet, of all the catching up, the feasting and merrymaking, and of course – the holidays! Quite the mood! I just wish there wasn’t the firecrackers angle. There’s just plenty to enjoy without that one!
So season’s greetings everyone, have a safe festival!