One of my earliest most vivid childhood Diwali memories is my mum asking me (actually more like pleading me) to sleep in the afternoon so I would not be sleepy early at night and could enjoy Diwali celebrations. And I refused, as any self respecting 7 year old should. And rest assured while doing the puja at 8 pm (I was, still am, an early sleeper), I would be dozing off and telling my mom “I am sleepy”. This was even before the festivities had started. Nothing pissed my mum off more. And I could not understand her frustration. Here I am, a poor little kid, feeling sleepy and all I want is to curl up in bed, why should that annoy her?
It never occurred to me that my sleep pattern completely screws up her festive plans (a sleepy kid = an irritable kid = a bothered mum). And now when Sanil refuses to nap in the afternoon, when we have plans for the evening, I find myself in the same predicament as my mum did, all those years ago.
When this exact situation happened last Saturday with Sanil, I recollected this memory, and it got me thinking of my other childhood Diwali memories. Here are some key ones- in no particular order- except what comes to mind first. So here it is on “first come first serve basis”:
1) Pista-Badam biscuits (Almond-Cashew biscuits):
Ok, who came up with the idea that these actually make good Diwali presents? I don’t know anyone who really likes them, but yet every Diwali when I was growing up, they were distributed with gusto. They are way too sweet, hard enough to break your teeth and come in jazzy aluminium boxes. I am still convinced that there was only one box produced every year and was never consumed. As each person just passed it along to the next one, without ever opening it. (Ok well a few initial ones were probably consumed, and once people realised just how awful they were, they were passed along at the next house visit).
This is a long string of crackers which is lit from one end and it explodes every few seconds until the spark reaches the end of the string. The noise level is close to a minor bomb blast and the effects on the environment- not worth even getting into that. It also served an indication of one’s status in life- the longer the ladi = the richer you are perceived to be (as you can afford to literally burn money). And every year the Desais and Singhs used to have a competition on the longest ladi. (My old Dakshina Park cronies will know exactly what I am talking about).
3) Silk saris
Diwali was the time when mums adorned in their finest silks. Red, maroon, bottle green, turquoise, fuchsia pink, magenta, navy blue- every possible bright color- and sometimes more than a few in the same sari. The lovely silk saris were accessorized with the most awesome jewellery pieces- gold with stones, kundan, meenakari work, jhumkas, chokers, bangles....it’s no wonder that my favourite saris till date are kanjivarams and patolas. The new-agey “evening cocktail” saris can never have the same charm. (They do look incredible sexy though, especially when teamed up with a halter neck blouse, but well, as always, I digress.)
4) Saroj aunty’s cake
No Diwali was complete without Saroj aunty’s special chocolate cake (decorated with colored chocolate shavings). It still is the best chocolate cake ever. And even though aunty was kind enough to teach me to bake it and gave me the recipe- it never turns out like hers.
5) OD on cold drinks and ice-creams
Unlike for kids today, for us, “cold drinks” i.e. sodas were a treat for special occasions. As were ice-creams. Diwali was a time to gorge on both especially when parents take you visiting to boring old relatives houses. It also worked as a bribe to stop bothering parents when they entertained their friends.
6) House parties
My mum used to host Diwali lunches for many years. All my aunts used to make their specialities and there used to be 40+ people in my house. I loved every minute of it! Maya chachi’s batada wada, my mom’s dahi wadas, Mita chachis veg Manchurian, Priya chachi’s kheema, Kavita mami’s prawns...yumm! And lots of fun, laughter, jokes and pranks.
The most amazing thing in all this was- no matter how many people were in the house, no matter how noisy it was, no matter the chaos, no matter the mayhem, my badi mama (grandmom), found a place (and the peace) to take her afternoon nap. Nothing, nothing, ever stopped her from that. And the evening ended with Mita chachi making tea for everyone.
From all of these above, what I remember most is the excitement pre-Diwali, the anticipation, and joy that was experienced that was never a letdown. I cherish the togetherness, the love and the affection that bought the immediate families, extended families and friends altogether to bring rays of happiness in each other’s lives on this festival of lights.
And what is even heartening to know is that after all these years, that excitement, that anticipation and that love has not diminished a single bit.
Wish you all a very happy Diwali. May wealth, health and happiness never leave your side.
Diwali of 2009