Festival of Lights

This week marks Diwali - the ‘festival of lights’ in India, and indeed, around the world. All over India days are marked by bright, colourful lights, sparkling diyas (tiny lamps), delicious food and, of course, the resounding thunder of fireworks.

India, this vibrant land of mythological stories - of faith and belief - celebrates all festivals with pomp and gaiety. But I find the joys of many of these festivities are in the little things: of families getting together to hand-make diyas, preparing those mouth-watering sweets, and spending hours creating rangolis – intricate, colourful designs to decorate the entrance to homes and welcome guests.

I remember that, as a young boy, it would be my job to string blinking and vibrant lights all across the ledge of my ancestral home. Decked up, usually with a fresh coat of paint, diyas adorning every window and door.  My home said: come in, you are welcome, please celebrate with us.

Diwali marks the victory of good over evil; of progressing from darkness to light. It is also believed that, on this auspicious day, the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi, visits households to shower her blessings. For precisely this reason, the homes are immaculately cleaned and adorned with lights to welcome her.

Diwali also marks the beginning of a new year in the Hindu calendar. And, like everywhere else in the world, the new year is ushered in with dance, music, delectable food, joy and thousands of beautiful lights. Visit any city, town or village in India during this week and they look like clusters of sparkling, multi-colored gems.

But my great country, India, is one of contrasts.

Over 400 million* people in India live in darkness, without regular access to power. For them the festival of light is a simple clay diya by the doorstep. I am sure that Goddess Lakshmi will not discriminate, but the inequity is striking – we are celebrating the festival of lights, but many of our fellow citizens live in the dark.
I believe access to energy is a basic human right. Further, this access to energy must be secure and the sources of it both clean / green and sustainable.

The Indian Government has laudably pledged to provide electricity all our citizens by 2012, and they endeavour to meet this target by using efficient, environmentally conscious, low-carbon methods. But I believe this is not just a task for the Government; each of us has a role to make this happen.

So, for this Diwali, I ask fellow citizens to use electricity responsibly; save the sparkle of the lights for the night and switch them off during the day.  Let us consider energy efficient lighting. And let us also consider the environment and take the first steps towards a more carbon-friendly Diwali by bursting fewer firecrackers.
Our hopes and dreams for the future are bold and bright.

Nutanvarsh Abhinandan! Happy New Year!

*IEA – International Energy Agency