On Saturday I learnt that 'Diwali party: Fijian style' is code for 'there will be irreligious booze and expired fireworks at the Diwali party.' "We are of course burning this tree in honour of Ram," a guest observed approvingly as the host ran to shake out the flames.
Once the tree was out, the gathering eventually noticed that a bush in the driveway was also burning in honour of Ram.
Crackle crackle went all our arguments for special responsible-and-culturally-appropriate fireworks dispensations in future possible fireworks bans.
It's important to note however, that we burnt the vegetation because the fireworks were old and shot off in wonky directions, not because the fireworks wranglers were irreligiously drinking. Why were they old fireworks? Because fireworks just aren't widely available at culturally appropriate times of the year other than Guy Fawkes. We obviously need to have fireworks sold all year, everywhere, to preserve our ability to safely blow stuff up in culturally appropriate circumstances at any time.
When the move came to ban double happies back in the 90s (were they later officially 'unbanned'?) I muttered darkly about the indirect discrimination it entailed for Chinese families safely and boringly celebrating Chinese New Year in their backyards with fireworks that we ourselves invented.
I conveniently blocked my memories of running screaming in fear as my brother chased me around our responsible and boring Chinese family backyard, flicking lit double happies at my legs, while our dog cowered inside. That all happened at Guy Fawkes though, not Chinese New Year, and so therefore I blame the decadence of the West.
If we had remained pure and stayed in China, we'd simply be blowing up the entire city with munitions-level strings of individual double happies the size of adult forearms, all lining the streets cheerfully in the open, with legless beggars shuffling about between the explosions hitting up the floods of pilgrims heading for the city temple for lucky cash, the temple itself awash with burning molten candle wax spilling out of huge devotional pyres, further adding to the very convincing atmosphere of a mass refugee exodus from a deafeningly live war zone. Beijing alone clocks up several hundred casualties every Chinese New Year, and the occasional fatality, as the odd devotee or army unit is blown sky high. If they survive, they then become Chinese New Year legless beggars. Not to mention the kids that get chained into fireworks factories that then set on fire. Did I mention China had a fireworks ban during Chinese New Year for ten years? Eveyone ignored it.
Yeah, um, we like fire. And blowing stuff up, including ourselves, the people who make the fireworks, and the factories they're made in. It's cultural though.
A guest at the Diwali party elaborated on the Hindu affinity with fire. His sister's wedding reception at the Sheraton featured a centrepiece flame several feet high, which they had to pre-test to make sure it didn't set off the sprinklers. And lo and behold, to the delight of the happy couple, the flame, several feet high, did not set off the Sheraton sprinklers.
Tip: never stay at the Sheraton.
Blowing stuff up, loudly, and having big fires, can be a deeply spiritual and cultural experience for Chinese and Indian people at specific times. I mean, I could certainly lie and say this is my primary reason for enjoying said blowing up of stuff. Truth is of course, that it's fun, and the reason it is fun is that it is kind of dangerous, and on Guy Fawkes, it is also fun because everyone else is doing it (which makes it more dangerous).
Because fireworks are fun, people will say anything to make sure they can keep doing it. My motives may be false, but this doesn't mean the statement is not true - ahem: 'whether or not fireworks sales are banned for Guy Fawkes, they should still be made available at Chinese New Year and Diwali for cultural and religious purposes, because use of fireworks by small minority groups will not lead to nationwide teenage chaos and mass torture of animals.'
Sigh - poor puppies. Oh the policy conundrums of modern times! if only, as the fireworks-ban lobby suggests, crazy teenagers inspired by V for Vendetta would actually try to blow up parliament instead of their siblings and pets. And then this yearly fireworks angst would transform from a boring public safety issue into an interesting political one.
Something worth about a minute of Diwali party banter prior to the tree-burning, was the the Indonesian Chinese woman called Lolita Chandra who complained about receiving a Diwali card from Phil Goff.
Firstly, one might wonder how an Indonesian Chinese woman ends up being called 'Lolita Chandra.’ It's possible she is married to an Indian Chandra, which would make you wonder why she's complaining. However, as part of the anti-Chinese extremism under Suharto after the overthrow of Sukarno, Chinese people were required by law to change their names to sound less Chinese. It's also possible that Indonesian Chinese Catholics were further persecuted by being forced to take names from great 20th Century modern novels that would produce the most cheap laughs at Mass.
It's cute that her Indian friends think it's funny. I wonder if they also think it's funny that she doesn't think it is funny. If she finds it offensive to be misidentified ethnically, it's odd that she would be blaming Phil Goff rather than Suharto, considering that Suharto was the one who erased her ethnicity from the public record - if indeed she was one of those 'converted' by presidential decree and never got around to switching back. I was pretty bemused myself when David Cohen kept insisting that I was a Dutchwoman, but hey, if he'd started sending me tasty miniature cheeses to commemorate my family's migratory journey to New Zealand on the Sibajak (via Java perhaps...) I probably wouldn't have been complaining.
However she got her, let's face it, indisputably Indian name, if Ms Chandra was, say, Malaysian Chinese from just over the border, her more chilled out multicultural Malaysian reaction would have more likely been ‘oh, a Diwali card, cute! Just like we send to our Tamil friends, except of course we call it Deepavali. In fact, I’m sick of everyone calling it Diwali. Discrimination against Southeast Asians and South Indians! I shall complain to the papers!’
Although, if she was Malaysian Chinese maybe she’d still be called ‘Chan’ and wouldn’t have ended up on the Diwali-card list, and instead could be getting upset about receiving a Chinese New Year card from Phil Goff when she's a Catholic and doesn't celebrate such paganism, and certainly not with fireworks. Unless they're, you know, 'blessed by the Pope' (code for 'really kickass loud ones.')