(Published on November 14, 2015 in Business Standard)
That special heart-warming, all lit up, end-of-year thing is finally here. We really need it. For one thing, we almost had a national nervous breakdown last week as Bihar completed its state assembly poll. The election seemed vitally important—it was—even if it really wasn’t (it was). We had favourite teams. We staked our first-born babies on the result, especially those of us who don’t have babies. We lost a lot of national hair, from the national stress of waiting for the verdict on Sunday. Would Bihar tell the BJP where it can get off?
I woke up that Sunday, propped myself up in bed, and placed some essentials within an arm’s length orbit—tea, cigarettes, laptop, phone, water, and some alcohol just in case—to watch the results. The news channels were on some hideous Keystone Cops trip of misinformation, hubris, and backpedalling. First I was stressed out, then depressed, then confused, then lifted into a mood that I can best describe as yelling Neenee nana noonoo! while drinking single malt before noon. This is not a metaphor.
I felt as if a weight had lifted off my chest. And I fully plumbed the joys of Schadenfreude. I discovered my inner troll. I’m only just getting the hang of these Twitter terms, but I think it’s accurate to say that I spent much of the remaining day leaping out from under Twitter bridges—twidges?—and biting tweeple on the twankles as they paraded along into twitternity. (Now I know why the online Hindus do it: it’s deeply satisfying, especially following a long period of perceived oppression. If my alternative career as an Uber driver doesn’t work out, I might be able to find work on a troll farm.) Then, like countless others, I went out to celebrate. It’s no wonder that by Monday evening everyone was wiped out from the emotional roller coaster.
The other reason that we need that special heart-warming, all lit up, end-of year thing, is that if we don’t light stuff up, we’ll be bumping into the buildings. What’s with this yearly Diwali smog holocaust, people? My asthmatic mother, who is usually quite capable of emitting her own fire and brimstone, at this time of year lies around gasping like a fish on a marketplace slab. She watches PM 2.5 statistics the way other people watch the stock market (just so you know, this Diwali it peaked at 985 microns per cubic metre, when the WHO limit is 25, and the Indian government’s is 60). She’s maxed out on all her emergency asthma medication. If she has to step out, she wears a mask that would frighten Darth Vader. And she still struggles for breath.
She tries not to be in Delhi around Diwali, but that’s not always possible. This year she checked herself into a nearby hotel in the hope that their air conditioning system would filter out most of the crap in the air. You try explaining to hotel staff that you don’t need a car from the airport because actually you live across the road and this is an experiment in continuing to breathe.
I say ban crackers, rockets and bombs. Ban the sale and use of anything that makes noise, and/or produces more than minimal of smoke, and/or increases deadly particulate matter. Penalise non-cooperation with jail time and fines. The air we breathe is an emergency at the best of times; on and around Diwali, it’s anti-life. Oil lamps and sparklers are beautiful, so could you please consider that instead? All those messages that say ‘May the light of blah blah shine on your thingy’ mean less when you can’t read them through all the smoke.