Of late, it’s been a succession of one happy day after another. For four months and counting, everyone I know wants me to have a happy day, and it shows no sign of letting up. I might have to be happy all the way till Christmas, maybe even beyond.
It started on August 29 with Happy Janmashtami! The messages piled up in my WhatsApp, some with downloaded gifs of Krishna. Barely 10 days later, I was asked to be
happy again because it was Ganesh Chaturthi.
September passed, but October exploded with more happiness than I could bear. Hundreds of people hit me with Happy Navratri! and Happy Bijoya! Then good triumphed over evil and I had to be happy again for days on end. Happy Dussehra!
When December ends, there will be great pressure on me to be happy again on New Year day comes around. It’ll all come around again like a bad dream—Pongal, Mahashivratri, Baisakhi, and by March, that terrible day called Holi.
Was I particularly happy, or happier, on any of the abovementioned days? Were you? How did Diwali make you feel this year? Was it a time of kindness, goodwill, goodfellowship and generosity? People wore new clothes, but did they put their best selves forward?
Travel, if you can, to observe the festivals of another culture, religion or country: a Jewish Hanukkah, a Muslim Bakr-Id, or an American Thanksgiving. Not one of them comes close to India’s major festivals, especially Diwali and Holi, in violence, rowdiness and tribal savagery. Most major festivals in India today seem to bring out a particularly aggressive and brutish breed of Indian hedonists. Civilities disappear; noise levels skyrocket, making babies shriek, old people cringe and dogs whimper. There is chaos and disruption but god is nowhere to be seen.
Diwali or not, firecrackers come out and poison our air long after midnight. There is nothing religious, reverent or civil about any of it. Good does not triumph over evil, nor light over darkness.
When India celebrates a festival, you had best find a good place to hide.
The Delhi government had banned the bursting of firecrackers, including green ones, until January 1, 2024, but Delhi’s police registered over 100 cases of firecracker use on Diwali, enough to spike the Air Quality Index at the National Stadium to 999, the highest in the world, the next morning.
The Supreme Court had ruled in 2018 that firecrackers could be burst between 8 and 10 pm on Diwali, provided they were approved ‘green cracker’ formulations. Mumbaikars, like most Indian confronted by rules, ignored it entirely. Diwali started at will and ended well after midnight. The police registered only 784 cases over two days.
The worst of male intention surfaces under cover of alcohol and bhang during Holi. A young Pune woman describes the harrowing experience: “Everyone was drunk or high, and suddenly, a man grabbed my hips from behind. When I tried to push him away, he threw coloured powder in my eyes, temporarily blinding me. Then hands began grabbing me from everywhere. I haven’t celebrated Holi since.”
In the middle of these travesties and assaults, it feels like sarcasm to receive a WhatsApp message telling me yet again to be happy. The most thoughtful among my friends will take the time to compose words of hope and goodwill meant for me but they are fewer than one hand’s fingers. The average Indian today mechanically sends a knee-jerk happy-whatever message, insincere and mindless.
Starting this year, I did not send a festival greeting to any of my friends on any special day unless I could write a personal wish for them. I thrust automatic, one-click happiness on no one and let each festival pass like an unpleasant stranger on a train. Indian festivals have become the worst days of any year. I’d rather wish you a random happy weekday.
There used to be a gentler Diwali in a different, younger and more innocent India. We’d be woken up for an oil bath before sunrise and, still groggy, light up silvery sparklers. I remember Holi in Santiniketan, full of affection, song and colour. I remember when festivals felt sacred and reverent, when we all stood hushed before some infinitely larger, wiser presence, and celebrated all that we were and would be.
There may have been something of that spirit of serene joy along the Saryu River in Ayodhya this year when thousands of volunteers lit up the river with 2.22 million lamps and kept them burning for 45 minutes. After counting the lamps, officials from the Guinness Book declared it a world record and presented UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath with a certificate.
I had to remind myself that Ayodhya was not a place where good had triumphed over evil. It was the site of the brutal, violent demolition of one religion’s mosque by another religion hell-bent on building its temple at that very spot. As though God, who I am told is every-where, would care at which precise spot he was worshipped.
No number of lamps can sanctify that.
You can reach C Y Gopinath at firstname.lastname@example.org
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The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper