With the festivities of Durga Puja and Diwali fast approaching our lives, bringing along the bluest blue of yet another autumnal sky, is it time for us to finally take a step back and consider the changing face of the cultural scenario in India? Against the rat race of winning money prizes and aiming for gaudy, elaborate pandals, are people allowing themselves to ignore the significance and advertise the unnecessary?
India is a country that flaunts her secularity on a calendar. Be it the festival of rains, eclipses or that of a hundred Gods and Goddesses, we have gone far and wide to demonstrate our love for a festive spirit which has more often than not become a year-long business. It used to mean loud music, street food stalls packed with people: even the shabbiest houses and the darkest of lanes lit up with the joy of some or the other festival. It meant having your loved ones near. It meant friends and family from all around gathering together for a few days of laughter and guilt free binging on cheap roadside food and hot jalebis.
But safe to say we have come a long way from that. Warmly lit pandals with authentic decors and homely interiors are a thing of the past. We voluntarily discarded those ideologies and signed up for the race where sentiment and familiarity have no value. We would rather spend exorbitant amounts of capital behind achieving something temporary and a frame that is short-lived than making an effort to contribute towards an actual change in our society. In parts of the country where festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja are celebrated rather lavishly, with a lot of pomp and grandeur, people see thousands of idols being immersed in the waters and along with that the money that was spent on procuring them. It is not an uncommon sight anymore. It is no longer shocking.
The commercialization of festivals was not an overnight phenomenon. It started slowly, one event at a time, gradually growing to become a natural trend in social behavior. People flocked to embrace this sudden new wave of change with open arms. The occurrence was surprisingly pleasant, they had never before witnessed their homely rituals so intricately wrapped in the finest of consumerism. Moderate settings were soon replaced by themed pandals; larger than life idols, grand decorations and an overall unthinkable expenditure. Their gods now sometimes decked in diamonds, their clothes lined with real gold and in no time it washed over the significance of each festival altogether.
It is also crucial to note that for a country with a poverty rate of 12.4%, where on one hand millions scrape through everyday life on the barest of means, sometimes not even knowing what year they are on, there is a side that lives extravagantly, spending crores of rupees on petty affairs that are also only temporary. Is that what we should be striving for? A competition between whose festival spent more money to decorate with the best lights? Or should we try in our own way to find a balance where we can celebrate in a considerate manner and at the same time show that we care?
The pandals are stripped down after the final day and the idols are immersed and sent away never to be seen again. At this juncture will is it not reasonable to ask ourselves, if it really is necessary to make such lavish expenses if we are only going to get rid of it at the end of the day. How peaceful is our sleep at night after a day of festivity when we come face to face with the harsh reality of life for a certain section of the society? The reality that this is a country where families need to hunt for food remnants from gutters and bins and children are dying of hunger and malnutrition every other day.
Festivals are a reason of ultimate bliss. They bring happiness that is endless and yet this happiness is restricted only to a few. So this festive season let us take a moment to think why there were festivals in the first place. They had the power to bring families and people together, estranged or otherwise. They made people forget about daily worries and live in the delight of the moment. It had nothing to do with the prizes or the better lighting. At least our grandparents can vouch for that. Can we not turn back the clock and make them less exhibitionistic and more, much more meaningful? What matters is that we are content and believe me, we will be.