Thursday, 27 October 2011

Diwali lights and frights

Diwali is the festival of lights, so this is peak season for Indian illuminations manufacturers everywhere. Delhi is lit up a hundred shades of neon, and it's clearly a mark of some pride as to who can get their house looking the glitziest. Mr and Mrs Mehandru are away, so my own house has been left in gloomy, unlit solitude among the neighbourhood's most impressive efforts:

Even the building sites are illuminated:

Their open frontages also provide handy places for the locals to enjoy the displays from of an evening. Any structure stable enough to support it is host to a gaggle of people gathered around a shared meal, looking out at the glittering city:

Of course, nowhere is more glittering than the temples - this is one just near Defence Colony market, which I almost ended up living just outside (it would have been pretty, but I think the early morning bells would probably have been a little bit more spirituality than I'm looking for):

Not all that long ago, Diwali must have been a serenely beautiful time to be in Delhi: the glow of candlelight, families gathered to celebrate together, a temporary lull to the clamour of daily life.

Then someone invented fireworks.

I have a confession to make: I really don't like fireworks. I don't mind them so much if they are a big, organised, large-scale display that look genuinely impressive and happen (a) rarely and (b) sufficiently far away not to scare the living crap out of me. Generally speaking these are the kind of fireworks I was brought up with. Anyone growing up in England in the 1980s was subjected to such a barrage of horror stories about the dangers of fireworks every October that most of us are too terrified to even touch one of the damn things. Fireworks, we have been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe, should only ever be lit at a distance of at least 10 metres from the crowd, who should be safely penned in by a magical rope (one assumes), by a responsible adult which (this is important) most of us will NEVER BE. Also, bonfires kill hedgehogs.

The point is, I come from a culture which may condone getting totally bladdered and vomiting in the streets, but which tends to frown on waving explosives around like toys or setting them up in the middle of the street without so much as a by-your-leave. Being of a sensitive disposition with regards to things that go bang in the first place, the result is that I really do not like fireworks going off willy-nilly in my vicinity.

I've long since learned that this is yet another thing that the English do not have in common with quite a lot of the world. Anyone who has spent New Year in the Netherlands may share my sense of bemusement that an otherwise eminently sensible people transform themselves, once a year, into a bunch of loons who think it's a hoot to lob firecrackers at total strangers in the street. My first experience of Dutch New Year was one of total terror in a heaving Amsterdam, when my friend Helen was nearly swamped by a crowd surge caused by someone randomly letting off a load of the things right in the middle of the packed Leidseplein. More recently the annual transformation of the lovely, graceful city of The Hague into a smoking war zone was a regular source of distress.

Delhi, though, is another level. Health and safety is not exactly top of people's concerns here in the first place, but the devil-may-care attitude to life and limb shown by Delhi drivers transformed my evening stroll (undertaken to bring you good people the above photos, I hope you are grateful) into something out of Saving Private Ryan (I exaggerate but a little), complete with flaming missiles, underfoot booby traps and unexpected explosions. The nadir was when, walking alongside a beautifully lit park, I was stopped in my tracks by a rolling cylinder flaming merrily at one end, which rattled gently across three feet in front of me. I had time to back up a further 10 feet or so when it went whooshing up into the air - had I carried on walking, it would basically have gone whooshing up into me.

Also, at least the Dutch New Year only lasts one night. The banging and crashing has been going on for the best part of a week now and I'm starting to get a little tired of the cacophony, particularly since yesterday my body conspired to give me a hellish migraine on top of it all (I really don't recommend having a migraine in Delhi during Diwali). Goodness only knows what the local animals are making of it all (come to think of it, the number of stray dogs around has gone down markedly in the last week).

So I've become a bit of a Diwali scrooge. Yes, the lights are pretty and it's lovely that everyone gives everyone gifts and that people actually get a bit of time off for a change. But enough of the banging, people. Please?


Sonya said...

I totally understand... Welephant came into my primary school and presented a slideshow of such horrific firework-burns images that I have henceforth been terrified like you. That's over 20 years of cowering so far... Trafford Council owe us some therapy. Great post, lovely pics xx

Chris said...

Oh god, Welephant! I'd forgotten about him. There's another clip on youtube that shows the aftermath of someone's hand getting blown off by a rocket. No wonder we're all in such a mess.

Anonymous said...

It all looks very serene actually - your photos make it seem so calm. I want a picture of a firecracker exploding! C'mon - please the readers... :-)
Fireworks in The Netherlands are scary! We always aim to avoid the country on Dec 31st.

Emily said...

I know what you mean. I had the same experience in Austria on New Year's Eve. I thought I would be serenely waltzing in the New Year. But instead I waltzed in the New Year with eyes darting worried about firecrackers being thrown at my feet. Seriously. Its not right. Loved this post by the way! said...

Loved this post! I too have experienced a Dutch new Years; a bottle rocket tipped over and careened into my leg. Good times.

You were lucky, Diwali this year was surprisingly quiet compared to the last two years.

I was too lazy to write about Diwali this year... will have to link your blog to mine if that's ok?
Life & Lentils

Chris said...

Glad you enjoyed the post guys - I was a bit worried I was coming across as a bit of a whingy expat! I'm a bit jealous because I didn't get a chance to try all those Diwali sweets (HINT to any Indian readers, I'll still be here next Diwali...).

I really can't imagine what the last two Diwalis were like if this one was quiet Louise...and yes you are very welcome to link to my blog! :-)

Isabel said...

I admit that I'm not a fan of Diwali either because of the incredible noise. My cat spends the whole week hiding under the bed.