Diwali is here. It is the festival of lights and sound. At least, it was. Not now. There is a cold nip in the weather and a sombre, grey silence which settles down in Delhi, the capital of India. India, as we know a rare Hindu majority nation, about which we read in the media reports that have turned intolerant and majoritarian.
Indians were known to be fun, vivacious and colourful people. The Indian culture was always a riot of colours as the Europeans of white Chiffons would call it. That was before Colorless Holi and Crackerless Diwali descended on India. I remember the Cricket matches a few years back. I remember how from the noise of jubilant fireworks one would know if India had won the match. Usually, the crackers came from Diwali, few left unused during the festival. Not anymore.
There was a time when being a child was fun. Hidden from frowning brows of the authorities, small crackers would be smuggled into the schools. On the other end of the football ground, crackers would be burst and we would run with a pace enough to compete with a Hima Das, so as to not be caught.
That was before. That was before Ministry of Environment began creating a zombie generation, taking a pledge to not burst firecrackers, pledging into their soulless, joyless existence. Dignitaries would arrive in their large SUV, stand with hurriedly assembled kids in the centrally air-conditioned, swanky school buildings and hold pledge-making sessions. The kids would feel bored, wanting to get the ordeal over. They had just celebrated Halloween last week, and they know Christmas and Thanks-Giving is around the corner.
The pollution is bad in Delhi. Diwali has not yet happened. But somehow those in authority decide that this worsening of weather is on account of Diwali. Media is in overdrive. Gore Vidal wrote, “The Press tells the American people how awful every other country is and how wonderful the United States is and how evil communism is and how happy they should be to have the freedom to buy seven different sorts of detergent”.
In our case, it is a half-truth. In our case, the press tells Indian people how awful we are and how wonderful every other country, present and past, including Khmer Rouge of the past and Saudi Arabia of the present, was and is. And how we should celebrate the attention that we get as a large market and enjoy the freedom to buy seven different sorts of detergent.
An inept system fails to act where it will make the most impact. Therefore, in its frustration, decides to act in the places where its meaningless existence will derive most attention. Since we cannot ban tonnes of untreated waste from flowing into our holy rivers, we ban bathing in them. I do not believe anyone to be moronic enough to believe that it is the human skin cleaning itself off the dust and sweat, the cause of river pollution and the foaming froth of River Yamuna. But when you hit the individual, it hurts.
When it hurts, we are conditioned to believe that something good in the long run might be happening. This helps the state get away with inaction, hiding behind fake activism. That is why no one asks those in power what happened to the 900 Crores of Green Cess Collected and lying unused (measly 90 Lakh used in a city under emergency conditions), why we have 5000 buses instead of 11000 sanctioned. Cars and SUVs continue to run, AC is part of life and garbage heaps burn in the city gasping for breath
The same is the case with Diwali. The stubble burning is an annual exercise of blackmailing the civilization. It is done by a group of a wealthy farmer, as they descend on the capital one of the days to extract the ransom for letting the people breathe. The state wriggles its wrists helplessly and the judiciary stays silent.
A man’s kids in Delhi burst a couple of crackers. The man is arrested. In the meantime, the fire in the garbage dumps of Delhi continues to rage unabated. There is a mafia, there is a mob. We cannot go after them. Let us go after our kids. It will not do anything. But it will give an impression of something being done. Once we have killed the child, we will figure out what we have achieved. In the meantime, this is festival time. Amazons of the world are offering great discounts. Let us keep our kids indoor, put them in front of computers so that they can buy things and keep the commerce afloat.
When crackers were banned, stupidly as some sort of proof of concept, even in the face of contrary scientific data, there was a huge voice of rebellion. I had predicted that time, that it is not the environmental impact which is being tested. It was the tolerance of the people which was being tested. They came, they tested, they mocked and they conquered. It was the beginning of a Pavlovian experiment, and we the common citizen being the legendary Pavlovian frogs. The experiment was successful and reaches completion this year as the zeal to burst crackers in defiance reaches its end. The state strikes and we surrender.
You can strain your ears to see if you can hear even a small sound of happiness this Diwali. I for one, cannot. The state and the judiciary have decided as we have been left alone to brave the smog, they will probably fly to the salubrious environs of mountains where they had instructed airstrips to be constructed on priority so they could slip away with their kindergarten water bottles, to enjoy their vacations. Who cares about petty, pathetic life of a private citizen, left alone to suffer the sorry silences of his embarrassing existence. From where I sit, how does the future looks? I would quote from George Orwell in 1984:
“If you want the picture of future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”
The foot that wears the boot need not always be the Government. It can well be any other entity which does not need the approval of the people they govern. Autonomy does not take long to turn into a dictatorship.