Monday, October 19, 2009

Diwali Celebrations

Diwali, or the festival of lights is one the most celebrated festivals in all of India. A tradition that seems to transcend all religions, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists of India all have their own interpretation of the festival, and all celebrate it vigorously. I am unsure if the Christians however, up hold to this tradition that is bigger than the religions, its cultural.

My day started of pretty normally. Until my bike ride. Feeling a little more comfortable, and probably a bit too confident on Indian roads, I biked tenaciously down my route. As soon as I pass a bus station on Jayamahal Road, it's time to turn left. And I really like this road. Called J.C. Nagar Main Road, the first part of this road is packed with markets and people. Even as the sun at 8:30 beat down, people were outside shopping, cycling, praying, and starting their day.

Towards the middle of this busy market, the road begins to incline. Since gravity is working against us (the people on the road) the rickshaws go a little slower, all the vehicles end up getting a little closer, and things get packed. As a car was closing in behind a rickshaw, I saw an opportunity to get ahead on the other side of the rickshaw (I was on the left hand side). So I pushed hard to the right, slid in front of the car, and quickly turned my wheel to the left to pass the rickshaw.

And being that Indian roads are unpredictable, exactly that happened. As I was in front of the car and beginning to turn left, the rickshaw slammed on it's breaks. And not having working break lights, I didn't have enough time to stop myself. My left handlebar caught the backside of the rickshaw, the yellow plastic that constitutes it's roof, and I come to a halt, nearly thrown off my bike in the middle of traffic. My handlebar did a nice number on that plastic too, creating a nice big hole in the back of the rickshaw.

Most rickshaws are rented, and I'm sure the person who owns a whole bunch of them isn't exactly the nicest of people, so I feared the worse when I heard that tear. Thank god though for all the honking and noise, cause as soon as I noticed the big tear, the rickshaw started driving off. The driver never noticed. In America, would I have done it differently? I'm not sure, a pissed off New Yorker can be quite a thing to handle. Now a pissed off Indian? That's another story all together. I would have had to pay him, if he called the cops I would have had to bribe the cops just for coming out there. Plus, I'm a westerner so they would have tried to swindle me of even more money. I was on a bike ride.. how much money could I possibly have been carrying? Then if they saw how little money I was carrying, who knows what would have happened next. My credit card? Who knows. My best option in that scenario: keep riding. It never happened.

As a side note, when I was walking down the road the other day, two cops were standing next to two men and a motorcycle. For whatever reason, they were pulled over. As I walked by, I eyed the closely. It was then that I saw one of the men who was pulled over exclaim something, and forcibly put Rs. 50 in the policeman's hand. The police man looked down at the bill, then back at the man, his face not saying "how dare you bribe me" but instead showed "that's all you're gonna really give me?". Just a little insight, we all talk about how things are corrupt here and people are bribing others, but I'm happy to say that I've officially witnessed it.

So the rest of the day went smoothly. I went to Gowri's house and hung out with Siri and Ratna for a while. Ate some lunch, and then headed home. By the time my bus had reached R.T. Nagar, night had fallen. Now being that Diwali is the festival of lights, fireworks (or crackers as they call them here) were flying off the shelves. Still, when I stepped off the bus, I did not expect the scene that I had witnissed.

I got on the bus somewhere in Bangalore, and got off in a war zone. Being in a city, and a crowded city (around 5 million + according to Wikipedia), where the hell would people light fireworks? Well, in the streets of course. Or off rooftops. Or wherever it pleases them. Walking on the main road wasn't too bad... with all the cars and people you could easily avoid the bombs. It's when I got closer to home and began to walk on the side streets. It really sounded like a war zone, bombs going off left and right, some right next to you, some far away, some way up in the air, some at your feet. If you look up your eyes glazed over with a fascination seeing the amount of fireworks there were. This proved dangerous though, because not everyone warned you if you were walking into their firework.

As I walked, some would begin, as usual, to stare at me. Normal, but not a good situation, because as they saw me, they seemed to forget that they had just lit a bomb in the street. Or perhaps they just forgot to warn me. Now let me just explain the unregulated fireworks here. You know the ones you see at shows that fly way up into the air and explode creating a mirage of colors way up in the sky? Yeah, you know, the big ones. Right, well those people were lighting in the streets, off the roofs, everywhere. As I walked, it constantly rained a small amount of ash and debris from those fireworks.

Also, for the kids, there was nothing smaller than the firecrackers that sound like machine guns. The most popular were the ones with a big, deep boom. I would equate them with American cherry bombs. You wouldn't imagine the amount of kids that had those. In fact... here's what happened.

I was almost at my house. Just one more intersection and I was on my street. As I was walking, an old lady was staring at me, and as I looked back I didn't notice the bomb in the street. Out of no where, BOOM. I closed my eyes, felt the force of the explosion push air into me, and my ears began ringing. About seven feet away from my feet a big cherry bomb went off that this woman had thrown. After she saw my surprise, and me wincing from the pain in my ears she smiled and tried saying sorry.

Well at least I didn't lose a toe.

In other news, Diwali was celebrated in the white house as well, but as I suspect, with way less bombs and fireworks. However, what's important about this years celebration was that Obama himself was present for it. Making 2 Million Hindu-Americans feel a little more at home. In our past administration, Bush never attended a Diwali celebration and lighting of the lamp. Instead, he would sent a cabinet member, or someone from his staff to represent him. Good for Obama to show up.


  1. Hi Norm,
    Glad to read that you survived the accident with no serious issues. Have you gotten a new bicycle?
    Sometimes people wonder about the necessity of having government controls, but I'm sure glad we have laws, with pretty good enforcement on firecrackers.

  2. Well here is a perfect example of why government controls on certain items are necessary. If you aren't aware, or don't see that firecracker on the ground, you could very well look like you came from a war zone too.
    And no, I gave my bike away in Kerala. John has a bike at the house I have been using.
    Good hearing from you guys again, comments are always welcome.

  3. Great blog and great description of Diwali. I'm an American expat in Chennai and had a similar experience with Diwali, but didn't brave going out into the middle of it like you did! I have some video at with the crackers and fireworks of Diwali. What a festival that was!