Old Habits Die Hard

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Thinkers had started eulogising light and darkness and various other elements of nature, a leading factor towards the concept of gods; this thought created stories imagining evils being killed by the gods. Now the killing of Dhumrasura by all-powerful seemed quite relevant. But this revealing also left Tapati puzzled if smoke was understood and treated as a demonic figure by ancient people, how do people forget it ? Here’s her erudite weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

The morning after Diwali celebrations turned out to be a deposit of shadows of all the darkness people tried to shoo away. Since childhood we have grown up listening to stories of evil spirits, ghosts and a few horrifying demons killed by gods; one of them was Dhumrasura, a demon of smoke; it was a name I failed to reckon with and in my imagination, his looks were as horrific as the pronunciation of his name. But this Diwali happened to be a great one because it did remove the ambiguous darkness nurtured in my mind out of childhood fear.

With eager eyes fixed on the calendar, the festive days followed as usual.  Diwali seemed to have arrived as a usual one; I watched people spent hours on roads towing the innumerable vehicles caught in traffic jam when everyone was in a rush to the shops and malls, crowded marketplaces and returned exhausted after spending a good fortune to celebrate the Diwali; never mind the ones who bore a good amount of frustration about riding on rough stretch of land previously marked as roads. But our people are tolerant hence weeks of severe rains and flash floods could not dampen public spirit; people tried to make use of every opportunity to enjoy the happy moments of the festival.

Finally, when the day of festival arrived, lamps were lit; the and rich both looked for a dash of bright ray in life, illuminating the front door or the whole house with electrical lightings, a more durable option instead of earthen lamps and candles with waving flickers. People were let known the dawning of Diwali with bursting of few crackers, without which how one would know that it is the great day of Diwali! Mid-morning became veiled in a layer of smog.

It was a dazzling evening with all the lightings; children from every corner came running with bags full of crackers and fireworks, accompanied by heavily decorated moms and fathers flaunting their latest cell-phones and flow of incessant messages reflecting a rich level of contacts. They all gathered and the race of burning crackers followed. Smoke coiled up heavily covering the starry sky and flicker of fires dazzled eyes till people started rubbing eyes and coughing to cover their nose and throat. But one great thing was that this time it was almost a noiseless celebration except few. With a high dose of sweets, snacks and savoury foods jumping in the stomach, the celebration continued for hours burning of wealth and calories together. Layers of smoke clouded over everyone’s heads; this time the smoke added two shades with crackers left smoke coiling in white fumes at the ground level, the same gave rise to charcoal black clouds in the skyline.

In the evening, we were invited to one of my neighbour’s place for the evening puja. It was eight o’clock when we entered their place, beautifully illuminated with electric bulbs and decorative lightings hanging around. The rangoli on the doorway was artistically laid and left intact without any footmarks. As we entered, our all attention was drawn to the child coughing hysterically with an attack of asthma; all doors and windows were sealed by the parents who both were busy and torn between attending the puja and frequent coughing and vomiting of the child. It was in stark contrast than was what was going on outside. After taking the Prasad, we left leaving the couple to attend the child.

It was also the night when Kali puja is done, mostly by Bengalis; hence we left to visit a hall where such Kali puja was organised. Crisscrossing our car through potholes and juggling through vehicles over speeding due to less traffic on Diwali day, we reached the spot with a feeling of great achievement; a sincere prayer to relieve us from all the evils, demons and bad spirits came to my mind in a natural way; we bowed in the feet of Kali Maa:

“Our salutations to the Goddess 

Who is staying as our Mother, to send us light and get rid of darkness.”

In an adjoining compound, two parks were allotted for burning crackers where families with kids crowded and a continuous display of fireworks were on; smoke covered the air making it difficult to see the faces. Standing at a distance, a flash of memory occurred repeating a similar scene with a field filled with smoke when a smoke bomb was used during an exercise of Paramilitary and NCC training in my childhood days.

With rationality grown within with ages prompted to understand the pure and simplistic ways of of human thought and civilisation. The realisation came that society was greatly influenced by the vagaries of nature and as a result, thinkers had started eulogising light and darkness and various other elements of nature, a leading factor towards the concept of gods; this thought created stories imagining evils being killed by the gods. Now the killing of Dhumrasura by all-powerful mother goddess seemed quite relevant. But this revealing also left me puzzled if smoke was understood and treated as a demonic figure by ancient people, how do we it forget it today? We celebrate the same festival of light and pray wholeheartedly for every one’s wellbeing; but what is it that blinds our eyes from this evil of smoke, pollution with grave consequences killing young and old hearts? 

Barely a place or two are able to realise how precious lives are lost to the devils of smoke. People staying in those places are fortunate to have realised where a ban was imposed on burning crackers. But rest of the land still suffered from this evil of poisonous smoke while people danced and jumped to burn firecracker, anars, and phuljharis with loudly cheering the height of quintessential rockets followed. Some were proud claiming righteous maintenance of our traditions.  

But questions burn my mind whether we should stick to these customs and rituals in the name of tradition when pollution levels are raised much higher than alarming; why forget the ritual of killing the evil of smoke, the Dhumrasura of Indian and embrace the way to health and life?

©Tapati Sinha

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Tapati Sinha

Tapati Sinha

Tapati Sinha is educated from schooling to Post-Graduation from Visva-Bharati University with a Doctoral degree from Nagpur University in A.I.H.C.A. She loves Indian literature, Indian and world history and continues her personal research. She picks her subjects from various spheres including historical data, daily experiences of life and varied work places. Tapati is passionate to pursue her writings, novel, poetry, short stories on multifarious topics, past and present under the pen name Anjali.
Tapati Sinha