Diwali is at the door step, people are gearing up for the festival of lights as it brings joy and merriment for everyone. People become very enthusiastic during this festival as it involves buying new clothes, cleaning and painting the house, making sweets etc. The whole atmosphere gets charged and the dazzle of diyas wipes out the darkness away and spreads light and warmth everywhere and cheers everybody.

The ladies of the house show off their culinary expertise by doling out various sweets and savouries and distributing the same among the neighbours, relatives and friends. Hot discussions would be on about the preparation of items, exchanging recipes and teaching the not so experienced with the same. Many families now a days opt to buy sweets from outside as it is convenient and helps them to save time. Sweet meat shops vie with each other and display, advertise as the competition is high and offer freebies like devotional books and extra 50 Gms. or so of sweets free with each packet of sweets purchased.

The tormenting time would be for the sweety pies, the diabetic patients as they would be mute spectators when others gorge on the goodies. There is some relief now for them as zero sugar sweets have flooded the market. Children make huge lists for ‘pattasu’ (fire crackers) and discuss with friends what budget their family is going to spend, without knowing that it is going to burn a hole in the family budget. But they enjoy the Diwali to the fullest. It is really nice to see the young children lighting crackers early in the morning of Diwali in their new clothes. All this makes me nostalgic again.

I think a little bit of nostalgia is always good and here it goes………

During diwali we all got new dresses. My father had a textile shop and we got the best dress when fresh stocks used to arrive from Bombay for the same. My mom being a good dress designer would stitch dress for all of us. She would cut and stitch, add lace or add a piece of zari or frill here and there and she made beautiful clothes. In between she would be making the sweet meats for Diwali. Mysore pak being the favorite for all, she made it every year. We would be eager to help her as we could taste them as soon as it was made. It was nice to see the fluffy bubbling mixture she used to transfer in a greased tray and she would cut them immediately into square pieces as it would set very fast. The corner pieces would be for eats so we would huddle around watching the whole process. When she made ladoos we too joined in rolling them into goose berry sized balls. In between the ladoo mixture will find its way in our mouth. When we indulged too much she would shoo us away. My mom liked to try new recipes and that fancy she still carries even though she is old now.

Preparations start at least 10 days before deepavali and evenings I would spend my time in my father’s shop, running errands and helping my father when there was a huge crowd in the shop. I remember spreading out the cloth materials for the customers or finding matching blouse for a saree or writing bills and collecting cash. I did all that. I enjoyed being in the shop. I enjoyed tea breaks more as my father saw that we were fed well.

Bang opposite my father’s shop was Chandra’s sweet shop; he was a Gujarathi and was very close to us. When Diwali approached he would make all the goodies ready and it would be on display. There would be so much rush in his shop; in fact one had to reserve sweet packets for Diwali. There would be savouries like Ghatiya, sev, spicy puris and kachoris. The sweets were saata, big and small variety (badhu shah) Mysore pak, jilebis, bundhi laddoos, etc. My God… the thought itself is making me drool.

When I got a break from my shop I would run to Chandra’s shop, his whole family would be there and I would play with his children. Adjacent to that shop was my uncle’s shop; the whole street was like another home for us, each person knowing the other.

There is also a custom during Diwali where uncles bring sweets to their nephews and nieces along with fire crackers so every year we got our due from our dear uncle. We had a bonus every year as my mother’s uncle brought in the same for his niece and children whom we used to call as Aboo (grandfather) as he was the one who took care of my mother when she lost her father. A big box would be delivered to our house. There would be lot of fire crackers, sweets and dry fruits. It was really a celebration for all, I don’t think any child would dislike fire crackers and we were very happy when loads of crackers descended in our house. Next step would be to dry those crackers to remove dampness and we would make frequent visits to the terrace for inspection as curiosity would be riding high. A part of the crackers would be kept away immediately as same had to be lighted on the 10 th day of Diwali, we celebrated it as Uthan ekadasi. On that day we believe that the god meditating in the Tulasi Madom leaves for heaven. As soon as the Navarathri festivities are over it is believed that God meditates in the tulasi madom and every morning and evening there would be aarthi for the tulasi in the temple and in some houses where they conduct poojas regularly. We do conduct the aarthi at home and for a month we make pattern of Krishna’s feet with rice flour pointing towards the tulasi and on uthan ekadasi day when the god leaves the tulasi madom the feet is drawn pointing outwards.

Coming back to Diwali celebrations, we would wake up early in the morning for our oil bath which is mandatory, and then we would slip into our diwali dress, then we would be off to the temple. The temple would be crowded, people coming in all new clothes, with a diya in hand made of rice flour with wicks in the centre and it would resemble a small volcano as the flour is mixed with kumkum to give a red tinge to it, then the aarthi in the temple would go for about an hour. The idol in the temple gets an abhishekam of scented oil made with flowers like champa, chameli, roses, jasmine etc. then it is distributed among the devotees. After the visit to the temple we would be home bursting crackers and gorging on the sweets which had come into the house from various quarters. Exchanging sweets were very common as we had Gujarathi settlement in the neighbourhood.

When we lighted the crackers street children would peep in through the grills of the gate and our mother would encourage us to share some crackers with them though we never knew that was what sharing was all about , now I realise how happy those children would have been.

For celebrating Diwali this year I am in Chennai and the whole family would be together this time. After a long time I am going to try my hands at some sweets and planning to decorate my house with diyas and the traditional aarthi (made of rice flour) on the Diwali day.

Many of the customs that we were following is losing its significance among the present generation and very few follow the festival with the real spirit, waking up early in the morning for having oil baths, meeting people and taking blessings from elders are becoming a thing of the past. It is becoming like any other holiday for many.

This year I have one more plan. I have decided to visit the children of an orphanage in my neighbourhood sharing sweets and time with them hoping that such an attempt would bring some light in their life.

Teach children the safe use of crackers.

If possible avoid using the fireworks as it pollutes the air.

Wish You All a Happy and Prosperous Diwali