Is it only me, or did Deepavali 2009 resemble an imitation firecracker stored in a damp warehouse for two years?

As this year’s celebrations fizzled to an end with a feeble pop, even the typically ostentatious leanings of the high net worth residents of Hiranandani gardens in Powai seemed to be whittled down to a fraction of their former self. And I thought the recession was over.

When we went down at around eight in the evening with our contribution to the diwali spectacle (two packets of sparklers, one of anaars and one of chakras) – we were greeted with silence. For heaven’s sake, just the traffic on the streets on a normal day would create more light and sound that what we were seeing! Where was everyone? As we roamed around the complex, searching in vain for some signs of good old hindu excess, I felt a smog of change descending upon us. Maybe, urban educated Indians were finally realizing what has been amply clear to me since a decade – that burning money in the form of fireworks is a vulgar display of wealth in a predominantly poor country. (Some of those fancy rockets cost more than Rs.5000 a piece!) Not to mention, they pollute an already terminally ill environment and scare dogs and babies. When the celebrations finally limped to a start post 9PM, it lasted for not more than 90 minutes – during which we decided to have a traditional Deepavali feast at Pizza Hut (?!). And yes, the place was full of good traditional hindu families gorging on America’s produce.

So does this mean that Indians have forgotten what it means to enjoy Lord Ram’s return? Does this mean that (reducing to a whisper) God is dead?

Or maybe the usually smart Indians are realizing that the celebrations do not a festival make. Maybe festivals are for friends, family and relatives to come together for spiritual harmony. Maybe the rituals of these festivals are meant to be unpronounced and even personal. Maybe the Diyas of Deepavali are meant to be markers on a path to higher self-realization, community spirit without excess and the greater common good. Maybe the Mono-Sodium Glutamate in the pizza I had last night is playing tricks with my head and rendered me cuckoo.

Well, whatever it may be, the change was pleasant. The morning after Deepavali, which is usually marked with the truimphant return of leftover fireworks, was more or less quiet. The birds were chirping, dogs were pooping and senior citizens where back on their morning walks amongst scattered debris of exploded cracker shells. Looking back at Deepavali 2009 – I hope this change is here to stay. Because we all have now seen times where economic progress has been humbled by the very thing responsible for it – greed and excess. Maybe, we all can light a candle to the fact that a Snappy Diwali is indeed a Happy Diwali.

Seasons Greetings to all Grimescene readers!

(Updated – 21/9 – I have now heard enough reports that mine was an outlier experience. More than Rs.1.8 crore of money was burnt in Mumbai itself – a quarter of the national total. Sigh. MSG can play tricks.)