As a child, I was a bystander to Diwali. It was a festival that was celebrated by friends and neighbours, and we would be the delighted recipients of bountiful trays of homemade sweets, covered by home crocheted doilies, trays my mother would return keeping within some sweetmeat she had made herself, or if none were available at home, a small bowl of sugar went back to the giver’s home, coyly draped in the same crocheted doily. We returned the favour on Christmas and on Eid. Marzipans and rum cake, kulkuls, doll sweet, coconut sweet, date rolls, plum pudding on Christmas. Seviyaan and kheer on Eid.
Those trays with homemade sweets don’t come in anymore, they’ve long been replaced by store-bought convenience. Boxes of mithai and dry fruits. Handmade chocolates wrapped in sparkling papers, tied delicately with ribbons, presented so beautifully, it breaks your heart to eat them
Those crocheted doilies Mom had carefully made and collected over the years, the thin embroidered napkins with cross-stitched roses down the side I had made during Needlework class, would then be put to good use, the only airing they received all year. I still have a stash of delicately hand-crocheted doilies somewhere in my linen cupboard, but we have long since found any use for them. They stay wrapped and mothballed for eternity. Those trays with homemade sweets don’t come in anymore, they’ve long been replaced by store-bought convenience. Boxes of mithai and dry fruits. Handmade chocolates wrapped in sparkling papers, tied delicately with ribbons, presented so beautifully, it breaks your heart to eat them. Cakes decorated with marzipan flowers that the offspring picks off and pops into his mouth like peanuts without taking a moment to marvel at the exquisiteness of the talent and the rigour of the training that went into the creating of it. Hampers of exotic goodies, some of whom have no remote acquaintance by far with Diwali in the countries of their origin. Gift wrapped and packed by an anonymous hand, bought in bulk, sent out with a handwritten note if lucky, or a pre-printed card if not. The sentiment, one hopes, remains as warm and genuine. But I miss the humbler trays laden with chakli, sankar palli, chiwda, mathri, gujiyas, and more. They contained something that none of these do, a certain investment of labour and love in their making, that added to the warmth of being a recipient. You were chosen to receive something another had taken time and effort to make, it made you feel valued.
The run-up to Diwali was a creative delight for someone like me with a good steady hand and an eye for colour. I was much in demand across homes, which would outsource their rangoli creating to me, and I was only too glad to have something to occupy myself with during the long days of Diwali vacations. Come evening and I would be escorted with great fanfare, me all of eight or nine, by various friends to their various homes, where I would quickly create a passably efficient design outside their front door copied off one of them rangoli design books, and be fed with Diwali sweets for my efforts. We were also rather wicked children, the homes with playground foes would see a quick careless foot ruin their careful work as we ran off, chortling in glee before we could be caught. These were the days of no CCTV cameras on every floor and stout denial until we were red in the face usually saw us get through any misdemeanour without consequence.
In the past few years, the earthern diyas have been replaced by the convenience of the plug-in electric diyas that make it so convenient to be lit and glowing without the inconvenience of oil spills, matches burning down to your fingertips and ill considerate winds that blow them out.
Each of us, kids had a huge stash of fireworks that we burst with no thought of the environment. We hadn’t yet ruined the air we breathed in to the toxic levels it is now. I confess I was a bit a wuss when it came to this and always had someone else take polite charge of bursting my stock of firecrackers only too happily. The offspring declined buying and bursting firecrackers many years ago. His was the voice of a conscience that prodded mine. Children worked in the firecracker factories, he told me, children like me. We haven’t bought firecrackers since.
As a new bride, one of the major tasks during Diwali was the buying of earthen diyas and strings of lights from the street vendors who dotted the markets in the run-up to the festivities. Buying the diyas and then soaking them in water, before filling them with oil and putting in the wick was one of the major tasks of Diwali. The setting out of them along the fringes of the home, in every room, lit and glowing, and hoping against hope that they stayed buoyant against wind and gale was the second major task du jour. In the past few years, the earthern diyas have been replaced by the convenience of the plug-in electric diyas that make it so convenient to be lit and glowing without the inconvenience of oil spills, matches burning down to your fingertips and ill considerate winds that blow them out. We sat with needle and thread and a huge pile of marigolds that we threaded into garlands of various sizes for the car, the threshold, the mandir. We buy them readymade now. Fixed sizes, fixed combinations. I saw my mother in law create tiny Lakshmi feet running in from outside the threshold of the home to within every room with rice flour and her fists, and intricate designs called Aiepan that decorated the threshold and the mandir. It took her hours, a practice that old age and arthritis has now compelled her to abandon. Today I buy a stencil and a roller, and various screens that allow me to do the entire area outside my front door in five minutes flat and immaculately at that. No goof ups. No agony of removing it all and starting from scratch. No pressure to hold the hand steady. And I feel no pangs of heartbreak when the cleaning staff scrubs it all off the next morning. And we have stick on Lakshmi feet stickers that we now peel off and stick on at appropriate intervals, bought from the street vendors. They stay with us through the year, until the next Diwali.
Perhaps this year, we could try to find the spirit of the festival all over again, in the investing of ourselves in the celebrations.
There were the post-Diwali visits to family and friends when you went across to wish them a good year ahead, and they visited you in return. These days the only invites that come are for Diwali card parties. Most people escape the city for the actual festival-seizing the opportunity for a mini-break. Some citing a long-needed break and for others the very real issue of young children unable to deal with the effects of the pollution in the air. The actual day is a bit of an anti-climax now. You decorate the home. You put out the store-bought mithai. You do the Lakshmi Puja, having lit all the electrical lights, you call loved ones in other cities and wish them Happy Diwali. Somewhere, something irretrievable has been lost forever. Perhaps this year, we need to find what we’ve lost along the way in the search of convenience. Perhaps this year, we could try to find the spirit of the festival all over again, in the investing of ourselves in the celebrations.
Photo by Anshu A on Unsplash
Kiran Manral is the Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author's own.