Diwali – The pragmatism of order, aesthetics and design

Diwali is a special day for myriad reasons, but I realise I’ve always loved it because it marks the confluence of contradictions. It is a worship of the materialistic aspects of life, yet it marks the spiritual journey to materialism. It marks pragmatism in the light of potential. It speaks of order, yet stimulates chaotic levels of churn. It glorifies aesthetics, yet lays down no standards, allowing each to discover their own. It is about form and function coming together towards a purpose – and in doing so it calls on the designers of success to craft their own pathways. A festival of resources and results. It is eternal, with the promise of many more, and yet it is immediate – and urgent call to do well now. A festival of re-invention, to end the old and start anew. For tomorrow is the start of another year to succeed, and succeed again.

The victory of good over evil is welcomed home because we know this is what prosperity looks like – it looks like order, grace, organisation, and competence. We celebrate these in thanks each Diwali, hoping that the next one is even better. And as we sit down for the puja, we ensure that we allocate time to reflect on the meaning of it all. Intent is a powerful part of anything that we do, including our periods of worshipful reflection. Diwali is a pragmatic festival, it is an annual marker in the cycle of human endeavour. To a farmer, an academic, a businessman, or a student, or to any other, Diwali offers a chance to reflect on success. And a chance to resolve what success will look like in the year ahead.

In grateful submission to circumstance, we first take a moment to reflect on the hurdles in our path and the resources we need to cross these hurdles. For most of us who celebrate it, this is made manifest in the shape of Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, the one who must be worshipped before all others. Prosperity follows wisdom and needs discipline, detachment and the ability to work with limited resources. In this, the first puja – worshipful and complete attention is paid to this idea where one resolves to analyse situations and create a path through them cutting through the bindings of past experience or karma. For a society that values traditions so much, it is very mature to recognise the siren call of past experience and its deep influence on how we make decisions for the future. That wisdom lies in breaking away from the bindings of the past, and that this is the the effort that will make future ventures successful is a profound lesson for every seeker. Our karma (shadows, memories, tendencies, templates-there are various levels of understanding of this term) hold us back and it is our mortal duty to move away towards enlightenment. This paves the way to Shri.

The worship of Shri is at the centre of Diwali, and she is made manifest in the form of the goddess Lakshmi. From a simple harvest festival to a celebration of aesthetics and a state of grace, Ma Lakshmi embodies the ideal we seek in our lives. We wish each other prosperity and light, but we leave the questio of the means and the ends to the seeker. For some it is about money, a simple linear improvement in business. But for most it is much more. Diwali and its Shree calls on something deeper than the mere philistine within. We clean our houses, ritually marking the changing of the seasons and therefore both, the raising of standards and the responsive resource reallocation. We tidy up, marking the need for order and aesthetics to come together to create design for functioning prosperity. We visit each other, sharing our prosperity and good news – recognising that no success belongs to one person alone. Nor would it be possible to sustain even purely pecuniary prosperity without a network of useful associations.

We mark the rule of law, and safety too with Diwali. Rama is supposed to have returned on this day, and the north Indian worship brings him to the centre – we rejoice the return of this king not because he was loved. By all accounts the people were very fond of him though his story doesn’t reveal much about a remarkable emotional quotient. We rejoice because his rule represents stability which is essential to business prosperity. Cannot imagine that the ease of doing business index was a cause of concern there, though one wonders how tolerant they were of incessant and inevitable call drops. They say that in that kingdom people could leave their doors unlocked – and on Diwali we pray for such low crime rates that will enable us to direct the goddess of wealth Lakshmi into our open homes. We open our hearts to our own potential, and resolve to be the light – grounded in the wick that fuels it, and pervasive in our impact.

As children, we celebrated, awestruck by the plenitude. The lights, sweets, savouries, shiny clean homes, glittering covers, fireworks. Everything shone, and the world came alive with the sound of laughter and joy. Some gambled the nights away, even what was evil on other days became sacred on this night – for who could deny the wilful nature of fortune. We knew that with every call to bounty we were taking a chance. She could come, or not, as she willed. All we could do was our very best to please her, to design our offerings with sense and sensibility, so that she would come and grace us. We wanted her to stay, but marked the impermanence of such hope with fresh flowers that would wither, with earthen lights that would just stay the night and be crushed again to dust on the morrow, with fireworks that light up the moment leaving us with smoke and remains. For this is what real dreams do, they bring us to glory. But no glory can last, and for every next step we have to build again.

The only promise that Diwali brings is that it will come again, and once again we will set out to reinvent and redesign our fortunes.