Legend has it that years ago, at the onset of Diwali, when crackers were sighted within range, I would scramble up the stairs and vanish, my hands covering my ears. (I am sure the legend is a lie, cooked up by my family to disgrace me). Anyway, soon after, I learned to not startle too much at every burst of crackers (and to hide my cowardice behind a silly grin). I also learned, in growing up years, to keep up appearances and say politically correct things like ‘I love Diwali’ and ‘I so want to burst crackers’. But those days, pollution was the least of our concerns.
In my late teens, I noticed how my old grandparents were disconcerted at the incessant noise that kept them awake on Diwali night. It was probably the first time the idea of noise pollution crossed my mind. When my grandfather walked to and fro across his room, unable to sleep, I cursed the silly people who burst crackers throughout the night, unmindful of others.
Then there was a phase of indifference: our generation became too old to get excited over crackers or flower pots or sparklers, and more busy with college and work. Noise didn’t matter, silence didn’t either.
When my son was five or six months old (and it was not Diwali season), around half past ten one night, suddenly crackers began to go off in front of our apartment. The sleeping child began to startle and scowl in sleep. I waited for a while, and when it didn’t stop, I went outside and asked the family (Dad, Mom and two children) if they could stop and continue a little earlier in the evening tomorrow. I think I put it politely.
Their response was not what I would call friendly. They were celebrating because they were back in India for a vacation, they said. My infant is sleeping, I said, and he is getting disturbed. These are only crackers, the teenager said, not bombs. The Dad took it up. These are only crackers, not bombs. I looked at the Mom. Her expression conveyed nothing. Maybe she thought I was being a spoilsport. I went back inside. After a while, the case was taken up by others from floors above who could not sleep, and a verbal battle ensued.
You got an idea about where this story is headed. Except that, it isn’t exactly headed where it should be headed.
Last year, my son learned how to light sparklers and flower pots and even rockets. We stood a few feet away, watching, as he lit each of them and ran away to safety. It is not easy to dissuade him once he sets his mind on something. He is excited that he has mastered the art of lighting rockets and crackers and all those things that go bump in the night.
This year, he looked at the horizon when the rumble began at dusk, between rains, and said, ‘Amme, there is a lot of smoke and sound pollution out there.’ A beat later, he asked, ‘When are we buying crackers?’
Anyone who has raised a child would know that to look at him and deny him that happiness (while the rest of his friends have fun outside) is not possible. Parents are torn between their love for nature and their love for their child; and you know which way the scales would tip. Anyone who hasn’t raised a child would say that this is how parents spoil children. So I don’t expect many mothers to raise hue and cry over pollution, even when we know what is right. (There is hope, however. My thirteen-year-old nephew has declared war against all Diwali stuff that pollute the air.)
Of the many hats that a mother has to wear, that of a confused hypocrite comes somewhere at the top.