Monday, October 12, 2009

No longer a 'crack'ing Diwali !!!

The year's biggest festival is around the corner, and the festive spirit can be seen and felt everywhere. Most shops on the street are all lighted up, displaying a range of dry fruit boxes and lanterns outside. Shopping malls are choc-a-bloc with people making their Diwali purchases and I am currently getting a SMS every couple of hours or so informing me about the latest deals and discounts on my credit card purchases. Closer home, we spent the Sunday on the traditional Diwali-eve cleaning of the house and Mom has started making the Diwali menu ('pharaal'). All in all, Diwali has well and truly arrived.

But amidst all this, there is one notable difference that can be observed. And that is, the relative in-conspicuousness of fire crackers. And it is not just this year, but has been there for some years now. The DNA newspaper yesterday carried a news story about how the younger generation has turned 'green' and is keeping away from fire-crackers altogether. In fact, it mentioned about how a kid actually did not allow its parents to buy crackers for themselves (the parents !!), much to the latter's annoyance. Not surprisingly, such behavior has badly affected the fire-cracker industry, with a wholesaler estimating sales to go down by as much as 50% this year. In a few years, we might no longer have a fire-cracker industry the way we know it today.

I, for one, welcome this change in attitude in today's generation (quite a change from my generation that pestered their parents to buy the latest atom bombs and flower pots and which started off as early as 5 am on the first day !!). For me, the most beautiful sight in Diwali is to see a home lit by dozens of earthen lamps ('diyaas') and having an even more beautiful 'rangoli' drawn at its entrance. Add to that the wholesome 'pharaal' and other Diwali sweets, and my festival is made. The one Diwali in recent times I remember was during our first year at IIM Bangalore. Then, we had an inter-hostel block decoration competition and about twenty of us spent all afternoon adorning the hostel block building (all three floors of it) with literally hundreds of small 'diyas' and some big ones. The more artistically inclined ones made a lovely rangoli at the block entrance. And then, as the day gave way to the twilight hour, we lighted all the diyas and the hostel was a memorable sight. (unfortunately, I have misplaced the snaps :(. This was followed by a sumptuous dinner at the mess to round off a wonderful day (What is your favourite Diwali moment ??).

So, Diwali has never been about crackers for me. Whenever I have burst crackers, I have always felt that they were, quite literally, like burning hard-earned money in thin air. Their light and noise is fleeting, not to mention the disturbance they cause to elders , babies and animals around us. Contrast this with the glowing light emitted by even the smallest diyaa, that spreads happiness in the heart of whoever sees it. Bring many such diyaas together, arranged in a variety of shapes and positions, and you get a sight to behold. What better way to light up your Diwali ??

So before I sign off, here's wishing a Happy Diwali and Prosperous New Year to all my readers and their families and friends. May you all have a safe and fun-filled Diwali and a fantastic new year ahead !! And yes, try and stay away from the crackers ;-)


Saturday, October 10, 2009

The race to Mantralaya !!

Under 72 hrs to go before the first vote is cast in the Maharashtra assembly elections, and things are hotting up. All major parties are having their last election rallies in Mumbai this weekend (Shivaji Park has suddenly become the epicentre of all Maharashtra politics) and we are hearing the familiar noises (having said that, as compared to the slogan-shouting of yesteryears, this hardly seems like an election campaign). The tiger continues to roar, albeit not as forcefully as he used to do a decade back, and the hand is back asking for votes in the quest for a third successive term (a rarity in modern-day politics). But the one gathering the most steam, and therefore chugging along to forefront of the political stage, is the railway engine.

Whether you like him or hate him, you cannot ignore him. And whether anyone living in the state (Maharashtrian or otherwise) likes it or not, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the keys to the next Vidhan Sabha are firmly in the hands of Raj Thackerary. Even though he has fielded only 145 candidates (half of the assembly strength), he is virtually certain to get the third lagest number of seats. And the quantum of seats he gets (opinion polls predict anywhere between 10 to 35) will probably decide the composition of the assembly and more importantly, who will form the next state government. And the man is certainly basking in the limelight. Yesterday's speech at the Shivaji Park was vintage Raj Thackeray and his uncle's stamp could be seen all over (especially when he spoofed Sonia Gandhi). In fact one smart thing that Raj is doing is sticking to Marathi in all his interviews, even if it is with NDTV 24*7. It was quite amusing to see Rajdeep Sardesai interview Raj, both of them knew each others language fully well and yet both were speaking different languages without an interpreter !!. Seeing Raj speak in Marathi (and thus reinforcing his Marathi agenda) would have surely made a small portion of the Marathi electorate see him in a new light (I confess I was impressed !!). As the 13th of October draws close, he is likely to steadily pull many more Marathi votes.

And what about the two main alliances ? The Cong-NCP combine should count themselves extremely lucky (did someone say third-time lucky ??) if they somehow manage to squeeze their way to the 145 mark. A decade of largely unimaginative and ineffective state governance (no major industries coming, farmer sucides, power problems, the vexed migrants issue in Mumbai) has led to a significant anti-incumbency wave. Now, in most cases, this would have meant that the opposition gallop towards the seat of power in Mantralaya. But is the Sena-BJP combine ready to get power ? More importantly, will it get somewhere close to a majority ? Its biggest challenge, of course, would be to reclaim Mumbai, Thane and Pune, on which it has been steadily loosing its grip. If it can achieve that, it can justifiably harbour hopes of forming the next government. But for those hopes to get translated into reality, they would need that man again. And so too would the Congress. And Raj Thackeray has kept his cards close to his chest, only revealing that he will support any one who forwards his agenda. If he is true to his word, and if it does transpire that the next government would be dependent on him, he is very likely to demand more than his pound of flesh for himself and the 'Marathi speaking public of the state' (note carefully that he does not say Maharashtrians, thus presenting a more inclusive agenda). Of course, what all this translates to for the Marathi speaking public on the ground after the next government is formed remains to be seen.

With the counting votes to happen on 22nd October, it is going to be a nervous Diwali for politicians and their supporters all over the state. But maybe one man will sleep more peacefully than the others !!.