Festival of Lights …or Endangering the Environment

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"Deepawali" (also transliterated as "deepaawaLi") literally means a row of lamps (Sanskrit "deepa" = lamp and "aawaLi" = row, line). In due course, the popular name has shortened to Diwali, especially in northern India. While Deepavali is popularly known as the "festival of lights", a more appropriate significance is "the new year of luck and wealth" and it is celebrated with a variety of fireworks.

During the week prior and post Diwali, the city is full of lights … star lights lining the trees and buildings; and if you look towards the heavens, the dark skies are lit up with various colours – courtesy of the fireworks. Some of them are really truly quite spectacular and a visual treat for those who have never really experienced this before.

Having moved to India last year – I didn't quite experience 'Diwali' – so this year – I wanted to see what the big deal was and why everyone was so into it. Don't get me wrong – the concept and idea behind the festival and celebration is great (there's a lot history on this – so you might want to Google it or hit Wikipedia) but for the life of me – I couldn't and still can't understand why we would need to celebrate with such environmental harmful elements !!! and for a prolonged period of almost 2 weeks. I can get that for the first 3-4 days of the festival – people are celebrating … but after that … why use fireworks ??

It's bad enough that a city such as Mumbai is already heavily polluted and over populated. The city for me became almost unbearable during the week of Diwali due to the sheer nonsense I kept experiencing when out and about. Of course I admired the fireworks and also oohed & aahed at some of them … but really most of the time I just kept jumping in my car seat every time I heard an explosion !! This is NOT a good thing when one is actually sitting behind the wheel of a car !!! There were a few times when I got quite jumpy after seeing an explosion of light barely 2 feet away from me (and I almost hit the car in front of me) !!

As beautiful and in keeping with the spirit of the festival the fireworks are – I really don't see much sense in the excessive use of them. I noticed this more-so after taking a few videos of the firework displays on one of the main streets overlooking the water – known as Marine Drive. The after effects of fireworks are enough to give one reason to visit the doctors for a lung check-up !! There's just so much smoke everywhere and the fumes as well, not to mention the mess people leave behind on the streets or pathways where they play with the fireworks. Have a look at the video I took on Diwali day, it shows some really pretty displays but if you pay close attention you see all the smoke drifting across the skies :(

If that's not bad enough – the other day I was sitting with a friend on Marine Drive and we saw this family pull out of the car – Father, Mother, Grandma, and two twin girls – probably no more than 5 years old .. sweet right ? nice family outing … then I saw the huge bin bag the father was carrying and proceeding to empty out onto the 'seats' made along the divider. It was just left me a bit gob-smacked that here comes a family with a bag full of fireworks (even though festivities stopped last week!) and were just going to sit around and entertain their children with this. So I began to wonder – why couldn't they have done that within their own building / house with the rest of the people in the city. To be fair – I even thought that perhaps the kids were sick the previous week and perhaps that's why it was small private show for them.

Now to the amusing part of it all … the father and mother went about lighting sparklers, small rockets, and twisters on the ground whilst the twins … they just showed No Interest whatsoever in what their parents were doing. The grandma was just sitting there trying to engage one of the twins to at least hold the sparkler in her hand and twirl it around ! I only got around to capturing the below on video about 15-20 minutes AFTER they'd arrived so it may not have the impact I want it to have .. but it's well worth watching (and hearing my commentary if I say so myself heheh)

The point I guess that I'm trying to make is that - the fireworks look great for a few minutes but have we ever really given a thought to the consequences our natural environment faces after those few minutes ? In the above example - was it really necessary for the parents to continue lighting up fireworks for almost 45 minutes when their children were not really quite 'into it' ?

Fireworks take many forms to produce the four primary effects: noise, light, smoke, and floating materials such as confetti. Fireworks produce smoke and dust that may contain residues of heavy metals, sulfur-coal compounds and some low concentration toxic chemicals. These by-products of fireworks combustion will vary depending on the mix of ingredients of a particular firework. (check google for more info).

There are various concerns about the effects of fireworks - but hey - who pays attention to them when used for a celebration right !!

Pollutants from fireworks raise concerns because of potential health risks associated with hazardous by-products. People suffering from asthama or multiple chemical sensitivity the smoke from fireworks may aggravate existing health problems. Environmental pollution is also a concern because heavy metals and other chemicals from fireworks may contaminate water supplies and because fireworks combustion gases might contribute to such things as acid rain which can cause vegetation and even property damage.

The most obvious and undisputed fact is that fireworks leave behind a considerable amount of solid debris, including both readily biodegradable components as well as non degradable plastic items. Concerns over pollution, consumer safety, and debris have restricted the sale and use of consumer fireworks in many countries. However it doesn't appear to be a restriction placed on the Indian consumers within India :(