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Friday, March 1, 2024

An Open Letter To ‘Sensitive’ Parents Who Are Asking For Ban On Firecrackers For Diwali

Dear parent of – child with asthma, pet with fear of noise:
I hear you!

As a child with chronic breathing issues and bronchitis, my first 11 years of life were pure hell. With an immune system so low that every seasonal passing disease would unerringly find me, I went through pertussis, mumps, measles, chicken pox and much more along with breathing struggles. At 11, it all vanished. Was it my immunity that finally woke up or did the viruses and germs take pity on me, I know not.

What I know is about those 11 years that had me watching from afar when friends burst crackers or played sports involving sweat, mud or dust (left me with chess and carrom). I’m sure it broke my parents’ heart as much as it is breaking yours now. But what differed is how they dealt with it. They gave up crackers, sports and anything that set me off but let my brother enjoy to the hilt with his friends. They taught me how to protect myself. There were no hi-tech masks back in the early 80’s so cotton kerchiefs were my best friends. An attack of breathlessness was, I knew, a spanner in my already pathetic play life. I learned to survive.

My parents never allowed me to blame my illnesses on others. The vehicles, construction work or the fireworks. It was my problem and we, the family, stood together and found solutions that did not involve other people changing their lives. A major life lesson that has stood with me every day in adulthood.

Now, as mother to a 12-year-old who is Autistic, there are a thousand things that happen in society that gives my child crippling anxiety. Ideally, he should not have been bullied in school by children (does your child call someone a retard or stupid?) or teachers. Educated adults shouldn’t be stage-whispering to us in front of him, about what great parents we are to live with such a child or others giving us “tips” to handle him better. There shouldn’t be people speaking loudly on their phones inside public transport or using harsh words in front of children. All of this sets him off. Imagine me fighting with the world to set right what ideally should have been the norm? Instead, we take care of OUR child. Soothe him, calm him, teach him techniques to deal with the stress and if nothing works, hold his hand and weather out the storm of outburst, tears and anger. We teach him to cope, to survive.

Our two-year-old mongrel, Hiro, hasn’t yet accepted the fact that he is not a human child. His behaviours display a stunning array of breeds that have mixed together to form his soupy Rottweiler-Mix. As a puppy, he feared all loud noises. Crackers, piling work for the apartment being built nearby, JCB’s digging the road, transformers firing. As with my son we did what parents do. Taught him to cope. Gently assured him that he is safe and over the next year acquainted/ desensitized him to sudden loud noises. For festivals that involve fireworks, he and I are in a bedroom with windows sealed, cracks stuffed with towels and music playing. We watch the display together, through the window when the boys are out having a literal blast.

Invest in a decent quality face mask with filters, teach your children to stay protected. Not just during Diwali. Spring brings pollen which worsens asthma, summer brings fine dust and hot loos, rains clog an already weak lung with moisture and winter woollens are dust magnets.

Teach your child to cope without resenting people who aren’t burdened by his/her condition. Tell them that a Diwali patakha might be the only spark of glee in someone’s otherwise depressing daily humdrum.

Human society is not a well-manicured topiary garden. It is a vibrant, ever morphing valley of senses. A gardener who wishes to prune all shrubs and trees to maintain balance, is creating an un-natural patch of land that may have aesthetic appeal, but has lost most of its utilitarian value. Let’s not prune, twist and shape things to such an extent that all we are left of, is a bonsai version of what once was a maha-bodhi tree.

Learn and teach our children to coexist and to thrive without dampening anyone else’s joy. May their lives be ever lit by the blessings and prayers that reverberate on every festival.

Warm regards,

Note: This open letter has been written by Smt. Padma Pillai who tweets at @lotophagus

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  1. Padmaji, great article. Thank you. Even while dealing with health problems on a daily basis, the perspective that you put it in, the sense of humour, is refreshing.

    As usual, Hiro is a delight.


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