x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The darker side of the festival of lights

Diwali is an amazing festival, but people need to be more careful with fireworks.

It must have been an eventful and exciting week for Indian teenagers. Diwali, the festival of lights, has been celebrated with much pomp and circumstance by the Indian community, with people’s calendars bursting at the seams with parties, family reunions and hairdressing appointments.

Glittering traditional clothes – a size larger than usual to allow for festive feasting – are being snapped up, where you can’t see the fabric for all the sparkly sequins sewn into it. My favourite part, the food, has happily not been compromised. My dad just came home from a trip to India, bringing along mounds of sweets that far outshine the feeble culinary efforts available here in Dubai.

It used to be that the point of Diwali was to light lots of little earthen lamps around the house that would bring good fortune, transforming it into a softly glowing sort of candlelit fairy castle. If you couldn’t be bothered to roll hundreds of pieces of cotton into makeshift wicks, douse them in oil, stick them in clay lamps and try to light them with a match that kept going out – that was fine. Ikea, as usual, came to the rescue, with its big packs of tealight candles that look authentic enough.

Sadly, the magic is being siphoned out of the festival by the advent of the electric fairy light that rears its head all over Indian cities during Diwali time. They’re not delicate, far-scattered fairy lights, either, but great big tubes of megawatt bulbs that flash on and off like advertising billboards in New York’s Times Square and guzzle far too much power in just one night. Instead of pretty hamlets awash in a luminescent smoulder, you get the eye-watering blaze of a Hollywood celebrity smile and a wistful longing for your Ray-Bans.

Things don’t look any brighter on the sound and air pollution front. Teenagers must plead guilty to being the worst perpetrators when it comes to firecrackers. Don’t get me wrong: I like things that go bang as much as the next immature – or average – teenager. When we are in Delhi, though, the incessant cacophony of youngsters setting off deafening fireworks keeps us awake all night. The next day, hospitals are overrun by asthmatics, the elderly and small children wheezing for breath through the lingering smog that settles over the city. And that’s not counting those with singed eyebrows or more serious burns.

To compound the problem, most of these fireworks have been manufactured in a small town called Sivakasi, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where factory workers include children and teenagers. Accidents and fires are common due to little regard for safety standards and it is tragic that our celebrations are founded upon the abominable working conditions of people as young as, or younger, than us.

I am all for the partying, feasting, tealight-shopping and bonhomie that come with Diwali. Even having to politely endure relatives you haven’t seen all year critically examining your physical appearance is bearable. However, I could certainly do without the noise, smog and health problems that come with whole cities setting off fireworks.

The writer is a 17-year-old student in Dubai