Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Lights and lists razzle-dazzle

December 23, 2012

Lights and lists, excuse the tongue twister, make strange bedfellows. But do without them, we can’t. Think for a moment: Had Thomas Edison not tinkered with a bulb and invented the incandescent light; we may still be in the dark. No festival of lights for Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Christians. Nor for you and me having our homes brightened at weddings. As for those flashy marriage halls mushroomed everywhere, no fairy lights, sorry!

Viva Thomas Alva Edison.

Our 2012 began with the birthday celebrations of Holy Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) and ends with the birthday of Jesus Christ. In between, there was the Hindu Diwali followed by the Jewish Hanukkah. Isn’t it strange, where religious differences fail to unite Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Jews, a unitary faith is the light bulb. It is the object that energises our religious festivals.

Interfaith bonhomie, collective goodwill, open-minded tolerance, live and let live attitude take a second place when an ordinary glass bulb that glows and lights up our lives is the showpiece of our celebration during our holy festivals.

And yet, the man who made it possible is hardly remembered. I often drive down to Edison in New Jersey, the town named after him, not once thinking about the inventor, but instead dreaming of murgh biryani and korma. Sadly, Edison is famous for channa chaat, gaudy shararas, saris and khushboo paans than the inventor who lived and worked in his lab day and night to give the world a light bulb.

Edison’s most frequented diner is owned by a Pakistani. A big fat chap whose business in life, it appears, is to hog. Behind the buffet glass shelf stand women from India, looking as tired as the food they dish out. They are in no mood to give you a moment to mull over what to choose from. Robot like they get impatient if you tarry a while in your order. ‘Hurry and be done with it’ is their silent message. Mind you, the food is not cheap. The ambience is annoyingly loud with the Pakistani TV channel blaring away and folks tucking away. Gluttony and kitschy are the takeaways.

Still we continue to go. Why?

The seduction for desi food, I guess. This leads me to another question: does food, creature comfort and material goods hollow out our intellectual curiosity to know the greats who passed away a century or more ago. Of course, we all know the Microsoft icon Bill Gates and Apple inventor Steve Jobs. These two men, fiercely competitive of each other, changed our lives with the origination of personal computers, iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone and iPad. Still, when Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey, it was not the computer or smart phone we missed most, but the light at night. And when after a week of darkness, the lights in our homes suddenly burst upon us one Sunday evening, we celebrated. It was our very own private festival of lights. We danced with joy.

The season of lights each year ends with a razzle-dazzle of lists. Both are a kinetic force pulling us towards pools of self-reflection. In your mind’s mirror, you travel the year journeyed and list the plus and the minus. What was gained; what was lost. The balance sheet shows how you performed. It’s doing a ‘360’ on yourself inside your own head.

Normally a ‘360’ is done on a person heading an organisation curious about the opinions by his peers and subordinates on his leadership. It’s a known practice in corporate America and is conducted by an independent, neutral person. Well, how about doing it on yourself? No cheating. Grade yourself. Go paperless. Just work out the whole exercise in your own mind. Once you’re finished computing the results, store it away in your memory chamber to recall anytime you need it during 2013. List your past twelve months highs and lows, the good and the bad.

Lists, lists everywhere, not a moment to think. Indeed.

This time it’s the hyperactive media burning the midnight oil figuring out the ‘person of the year;’ ‘world’s wealthiest man;’ ‘top 10 most influential people;’ ‘liar of the year’ (the slot’s already gone to Mitt Romney!). Apart from humans, we have ‘top 10’ of everything from best and worst movies, fiction books, nonfiction, TV series, songs, food, fashions, scandals, buzzwords, tweets, diet, exercise, lifestyles, news stories, quotes, homes, cars, ideas, gadgets, videos… and on and on.

It’s information overload.

Here’s one more gem: Last year and this year too, some homes, I noticed had brighter lights to boast than their neighbours.

Naturally, these little twinkly things, multicoloured and bright, attracted the eye. Someone helped me figure out the puzzle: “These lights you see,” pointing to the bright sparks, “are LED which in technical terms stands for light-emitting diodes. The bulbs are super bright.”

Move over Thomas Edison. The world now worships LED bulbs. While Edison is the man New York City will forever remember for developing the electric-power generation and its distribution to homes, businesses, and factories, today his incandescent light bulb is being quickly replaced by what we call ‘energy savers’ and LED lights. Before energy savers entered our lives back in Pakistan, our homes, offices, billboards and marriage halls were lit up by neon and tube lights. Karachi, the ‘city of lights’ won this title thanks to the neon.

In fact, if you remember, when load shedding began way back in January of 2008, policymakers brought out newspaper and TV advertisements advising consumers to switch to energy savers. The bulbs, though costly, consumed much less electricity. Some European countries have in fact banned Edison’s invention, the incandescent light bulb in favour of energy efficient lights, including the LEDs.

Today, electric stores in America have shelves full of LED bulbs that promise to light your home for 30 years. They carry a guarantee to keep your house lit for full 3 decades long. This is unsettling for someone in his/her 50s, 60s or 70s. It is a stark reminder of one’s mortality: Life span to be exact. The thought that the bulb will survive you is not a happy thought. Do you plan to leave the bulb as a legacy for your heirs? Apart from qualifying in the ‘ridiculous list’ the feeling is unnerving.

Banish these dark thoughts and while one lives, enjoy the festivals of lights that swirl around us from year to year. Happy season’s greetings. Tis time to be joyous.