Its Diwali. Or Deepavali.

Festival of lights, sweets, crackers, noise and pollution.

Remember when you were 10 years old and nobody even talked about that word ‘pollution’. Everyone knew there was a little more smoke, but we lived with it. We weren’t green, I guess, or too green, depending on the context of the word.

Of course, the only crackers we could afford were small ‘bijli’ ones… came packed in a soap-powder like packet and we could while away the entire day lighting each one, trying to find innovative places to light it up in… coconut shells, post boxes, bottles… and whatever else caught our eye and escaped the adult eye.

The long chains signified the end of the day’s cracker-bursting process. We would wait for it, savor it… because the longest I could ever afford was 1000 crackers long.

You probably won’t get this if you didn’t live with it.

The locality would get quiet by 10 PM. Nobody really had the money to burn more. And we wanted to make it last as long as possible, plus save a few extra ones for the days India won cricket matches against Pakistan.

When did that change? Was it globalization? Was that when everyone could afford several strings of cracker chains? Was that when cracker makers started getting more innovative, coming up with double and triple bursts, louder bombs and crazier things?

The hydrogen bomb was the loudest cracker I ever had. I hated the sound but there was something sadistically compelling about it. My dog hated it. The babies hated it. And once I was done bursting them, I hated it too. But we still used it.

The past few years I so rarely hear the gentle pop of the bijli. Nor do I hear the matap. I do not see kids huddled over a piece of paper, collecting the left over gunpowder from the ones that did not fire, trying to make their own little version of a cracker.

Sure, these things are dangerous. People have lost various body parts to such experiments. But when you are 10, you do not think about what limb you could lose. You only think about how high you can blow that damn thing. And older cousins are always there as ‘chaperons’.

As dangerous and polluting it was, I enjoyed those times of Diwali. It was about hordes of cousins, sneaking out sweets from the kitchen and doing the craziest possible thing with the few crackers you had. I look at the excitement out of my window today and it is all about largesse… how many crackers do you have, how long is the string, how fancy is it…

I’m sure this generation will have their share of memories too… But I wonder how many generations ahead will get to see the joy of lighting a firecracker… Our current largesse will cost the environment and the future generation of such simple joys.

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