Let there be light!

As with most Hindu festivals, Deepavali too has many origins and versions. And all of them could be true because it is quite possible that different auspicious events had occurred on the same day (thidhi) in various years and even across yugas. The cause for its celebration may therefore be varied, but Deepavali is unique as it signifies an early dawn. It is not that sunrise gets advanced on that day; rather, we rise ahead of the sun. Pray what could the reason be other than of course the thrill of vying to be the first to wake up the neighbourhood with a virgin burst of crackers?

Seers and sages have always held the pre-dawn period as ideal for imbibing knowledge or learning skills. In a land suffused with spiritual symbolism, this festival probably urges humanity to seek out enlightenment in godspeed. Now, what sort of early enlightenment can the faithful expect this festival of lights to herald and hasten in, much ahead of sunlight? Enlightenment is a lofty goal. And it carries a religious connotation that is taboo to a modern materialistic mind. A scientific advancement too can be deemed a kind of enlightenment, but the latter term somehow is always associated with the fruition of faith. Be that as it may, I for one would be happy even if just shades of a dim light are visible in some obvious dark spots in the nation.

On festival eve one is supposed to ooze optimism. So granted, this emerging economy looks bright and sunny, in material terms. Though a great majority of Indians would not agree with that claim, the rest of the world, particularly the West which is reeling under recession, thinks so. An opinion that is reinforced by high profile visits starting with the American President to the heads of China, Russia and France in quick succession. This when only last month fussy foreign sportspersons refused to even step on this ‘fatally insecure and filthy’ soil for the CWG. Sure, India, the economic powerhouse has arrived, drawing the world to its doors. Indeed, Obama would be happy to rise before dawn on Deepavali for an oil bath in White House if that would fetch him a few fat deals for his beleagured industries! So, is the western seal of approval, that Indians always yearn for, proof of our power? Or is it yet another historical hoax, a prelude to a sell-out? We can do with some fresh light, since we refuse to be enlightened by our own jinxed past!

The economy that is glowing to those who behold it from yonder needs a look under closer light. If GDP were the yardstick, it was alway a matter of time for India’s economy to ‘boom’; sheer demographics would see to it. The critical economic concern was never the quantum of growth, but its equitable distribution. And of course, prices of essentials. M Singh and his band of financial wizards are now obsessed with double digit growth, at least 10%. Notwithstanding that some pampered sectors catering to a chosen high profile club would grow by over 20% while the bulk of the nation would stagnate at 3% or less. Really, there would not be a single sector at 10% mark! This is a mean statistical spoof on the tax-payer. And worse, the same whizkids would tell us that high growth will lead to more inflation, which, however, will be shared most equitably by all sectors, irrespective of what the traffic can bear. Now, we need to stretch the midnight oil beyond dawn into day light and will still likely fail to get any light on this quirky arithmetic!

Corruption is not a dark spot but a big black hole. No amount of light, be it media searchlights or judicial flashlights can unravel this dense monster. No scandalous politico has ever ended up with an indictment; rather a scam seamlessly leads to another as day follows night with dawns being just fleeting mirages on print and primetime. Ocassionally, a scapegoat that had just grazed the surface gets trapped, only to be resurrected in some other pasture. The grazing and gold digging on public property will, however, continue unabated. Of late, I have come to sympathise with pick pockets, petty thieves and those who palm off paltry items. These lightweight crooks must form an association and fight for a level playing field. The dice is now heavily loaded in favour of their political heavyweight counterparts. I would like to throw more light on this critical issue, but someone just pinched my torch to present himself with a Deepavali gift! Any way, all that loot is happening in broad daylight, from dawn to dusk, desk to desk!

Let’s now shift our gaze from the public space and turn the arclights inwards. A delirious array of disjointed queries arise. Now are we a society in stupor? What is the contribution of our own indifference to the all round decay, civic, social and political? Is the ordinary praja himself corrupt thereby deserving the raja? Again, should those belonging to a civilisation that claims to be a spiritual ‘vishwaguru’ seek salvation only in economic prosperity? In its bid to keep pace with the competitive physical world, has this land lost touch with the meta-physical, its core competency? Do riches always accompany moral bankruptcy? Do we willingly court blissful ignorance, the maya alluded to in our scriptures, as an alibi for inaction and lazy indulgence? Has the convenient veil of sacredness blinded us to the science inherent in our shastras? Are our festivals cultural signposts or mere commercial extravaganzas? Is Deepavali all about shopping and sponsored soaps? Do we need a pre-dawn special show of our favourite hero’s flick to rise early even on a Deepavali day? Aah, more light will only expose more darkness.

But whatever the trigger, the tradition must continue. The lost spirit and elusive meaning can always be breathed in. And one day, the Narakasuras, within and without, will indeed be slain! After all, festivals are harbingers of hope and that will never change.

Happy Deepavali!

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Jawahar T R