I am convinced that Diwali is the big holiday of Bombay. It is the one occasion that all citizens celebrate, whatever community they may belong to, wherever they may have come from, whether they are rich or poor.
Not Christmas or New Year, that is celebrated by a certain section of the population. Christmas by the Christians, New Year by the affluent and the educated who are aware that tomorrow a new year starts. And not Ram Navmi or Idd or Buddh Jayanti or Guru Nanak's birth anniversary, or Mahavir Jayanti, not even Dassera. These are religious occasions, not public celebrations.
The essence of Diwali is that it is a general festival, not associated with any God. And the fact that it is a festival of lights, literally so, adds to its charms.
All Bombay is lit up for Diwali, not just the jeweller's shorefronts. And the illumination is not with electric bulbs and floodlights, but with modest oil lamps in mud pots. It is simple, inexpensive and effective. I suggest that this Diwali you go around some of the poorer areas of the city, to Lalbaug, Parel and Chinchpokli. Here you will see the play of millions of flickering flames on the rough facades of ancient chawls, transferring them momentarily into things of beauty.
Diwali is really meant for these people. They are the ones who need the Diwali bonus (how apt that bonus is paid at Diwali time), they are the ones who buy new clothes for their children, and, sometimes, for themselves, utensils for their kitchens, small symbolic gifts for their friends, send a sari home to their mother in the village. For the rich (by the rich I do not mean the Ambanis and the Mafatlals, I include the entire upper middle-class), Diwali is every day. And I think it is sad that the poor have to fight for their Diwali bonus. It is a gift, and, like all gifts, it should be given freely and handsomely.
There is this other business of firecrackers. Each year, I find, the protest against these is increasing. Mainly it comes from people who have never burst a firecracker in their lives, partly because every night they are at a disco where there is enough noise to keep them amused. I do not think this is fair; people have a right to let themselves go once in a year, never mind your neighbour's sleep.
And, if the objection is against certain type of dangerous fireworks, all that the police have to do is keep an eye on the dozen or so shops in the city and suburbs which sell fireworks. Check them daily and confiscate any nonsaleable articles found on their premises. Why go about making appeals to the people!
The main point is to maintain Diwali as a national holiday. Let us celebrate it with a big bang and lots of light.