At the outset, let me wish everyone a very Happy Diwali!
This is an old post I am re-posting for it talks of both the then and now of Diwali. There are many significant events that this pan-Indian festival celebrates. One of them commemorates the return of Ram, Sita and Lakshman to Ayodhya after their exile . The entire city was lit up with lamps which shone like so many stars on the ground from the Pushpak Viman bearing their beloved king. The other is the legend of Krishna vanquishing Narakasura. There are others too, but this post is not about them. Read on and you will know what it is all about….
There is this elderly couple in the building opposite ours whom we visited this morning with some sweets and namkeen made by me. We touched their feet and they blessed us most heartily. The happy lady plied us with the crunchy murukkus and badam barfi, laddoo and spicy mixture and gave a packet of the same when we left. It brought back memories of my childhood days when Diwali meant sweets, lamps, new clothes, rangoli and crackers; but most of all it meant the visits we made to our relatives and friends for their blessings and of course lots of eats!
I liked all the things except the crackers. The noisy things made me jittery all through the festival. I never burst a single cracker, and even the sparklers I chose were the silent ones, not the crackling ones! I was one scaredy cat where sounds were concerned. Remember my dread of the tiger dance drums? Old timers would remember the ‘cap’, those small red bindi like things that held a pinch of explosive stuff and popped when hit with something hard like a stone or a hammer. My elder brother rigged up a nut and bolt contraption for me to pop the caps. And know what? I would still stand on a chair and throw the nut down and stop my ears before it burst!
I lovingly lit dozens of lamps with my sister and stood to watch them from near and afar to glory in their flickering brightness. Mixing colours and making grand patterns outside one’s home was another aspect of the festival that I loved to bits. The entire street would be carpeted with the huge patterns made in front of every house.
Celebrations started long before Diwali, and went on for several days after too. One was Kojagiri, which is celebrated on Sharad Poornima, the full moon day before Diwali. It is celebrated in some states including Maharashtra. Goddess Laskhmi is supposed to visit the earth calling out ‘Ko jagrati?’ (Who is awake?) Lights used to be kept on and people would fast and keep awake singing bhajans, playing antakshari and even playing cards to welcome the goddess of wealth. It is believed that if she found a house without lights, she would pass it by. It is another matter that many played cards to keep awake. Talk of trivialising the intent behind a festival and then blaming religious rituals!
Every street also had a kila – elaborate construction of a fort that was built with bricks and mud, painted and decorated. Toy soldiers and people adorned them. Alas, today even these kilas are available readymade!
On Diwali day, I would be assigned the job of carrying plates laden with the assortment of goodies to our neighbours’ and get in return karnaje, anarse, chivda and besan laadoo, which were the staple of our Maharashtrian neighbours in Nagpur. Boy, do I miss those days!
Coming back to the present, as I light the lamps and arrange them in our balcony, I notice that ours is the only one in the vicinity sporting oil lamps. The rest have garlands of colourful blinking serial lights. No messy wicks and oil and matches for them. Just the flick of a switch and hey presto, you have light!
Just as I am writing this, the crackers are going off outside and the burglar alarms of the cars in the parking lot are setting up a racket.
I have always wondered what people get out of all the noise and bang of the firecrackers. I remember my class teacher dissuading us from wasting money on these by suggesting that we light lamps and then beat on drums to have both sound and lights instead of bursting firecrackers which give the same effects but burnt hard earned money in the bargain!
The younger one had given up firecrackers after watching a documentary of the industry in Sivakasi. He sat spell bound through the programme watching little children, as old as and little older than him handling hazardous chemicals to make them. He had been seven then and when he announced that he would not burst any crackers that Diwali, we thought that he would change his mind when he saw the other kids of the housing society having fun with them. But he had refused to join them, telling them that they should also give it up since the crackers were made with child labour!
Child labour is just one aspect of firecrackers. The other is the pollution that they cause. Apart from respiratory disorders that can lay one low for the duration of the festival, canine pets are the most affected as their hearing is acute. Think of all the strays! It breaks one’s heart to see them cringe in fear. And the garbage on the day after! Why can’t people have some civic sense, at least cleaning it all up? It is a laudable thing that school children in increasing numbers are taking a pledge not to burst crackers. But the decibel still doesn’t seem to have reduced, has it?
Well so much for firecrackers and the nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Even today we wear new clothes, light lamps, albeit electric ones, have store bought sweets and dry fruits for our visitors and when we visit people we carry ‘gifts’ and get ‘gifts’ in return. Nothing wrong in it, as most of us have no time to make sweets at home or have large spaces to make rangolis or even have the time to carry trays of sweets to neighbours. Rituals change and must change, and as long as it doesn’t make for a designer Diwali or turn into a status match, everything is fine. The fact however remains that the gifts of today are measured not by the love with which it is given but by its value.
Despite all the justification, I still can’t help saying wistfully that though we used to do the same things in the past, it had a personal touch to it, which is why the visit to our elderly neighbours this morning brought back all that nostalgia. In the commercialization of the festival, the spirit is somehow missing.
What do you feel about it?