Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Diwali - chaar guna behtar

It turns out that promises I make myself I rarely keep. I was going to blog about the many diwali’s last week but was too caught up in the whole super Obama drama and then moping because of the weather and then socialising to get out of the rut. So I didn’t.

Diwali One – Childhood, teen years and early adulthood: the scene has always been my parents home in New Delhi, India. My father is totally non-religious. He won’t go to temples or pray in any discernable way. My mother clearly believes in something, will go to a temple if I coerced her but essentially is like my father in that there is no regular form of prayer in their house. I on the other hand have had a somewhat religious bent of mind inherited from my nani and garnered over years of watching other people praying. But diwali is the exception to any rule. And this is what I remember. My parents, or more specifically my mother, will unpack her puja which consists of various inherited pictures and murtis and line them up against a wall, on a suitable table runner or duppatta. The Nik and I would have to pile up our books and pencil cases in front (to meet with Saraswati puja guidelines) and a load of mithai later hey presto(!) we looked liked we prayed everyday! After getting dressed in something new (sometimes a step we skipped) and decorating/ embellishing with kheel, khand ke khilone, batashas and diyas we would sit and sing the two religious songs we knew. And by we, I mean me and my mother, in our awful braying voices. The boys would stand sheepishly at the back, tugging at their kurtas and hopping from foot to foot. Puja concludes with silent prayer and one diya each is placed in each room of the house and all the candles and diyas on the perimeter would be lit. Then my mother would distribute the kheel, khilone, batashe and mithai onto thali’s with other diwali stuff like nuts, fruits, mathris and the Nik and I would be dispatched to each of our neighbours to be neighbourly. We’d invariably come back with more, less appetizing mithai and stuff from their houses. Then polish off a load of mithai and our chosen khilona (which were such pure sugar that we'd be bouncing off the walls by dinner). Then fireworks. The end.

Diwali Two – Two&some years ago we bought our very first home, V & I. Our very own veritable pot of debt and DIY disasters. But by the time diwali came around we could think of no invitation better than to go home to India. After a number of years as the youngest bahu I was going to be at my in-laws place for the very first time to celebrate it with V’s family. One of his brothers and his wife joined us. I’m not sure what bits I remember besides my lovely new clothes, the fact that we got all dolled up and ate a sumptuous feast mostly prepared by my mother-in-law (I contributed one dish I think). Then we lit diyas everywhere and finally at midnight we did the puja as is tradition in their household. In jodi’s, with many an asking for grandchildren(what?!) and long happily married lives (now that I am fully on board with!). I remember it being a laughter filled evening and how happy we were to be together. And how sad that the other sibling and his family hadn't joined us. I’m glad we chose to go - I think it was the best decision in ages.

Diwali Three - Of course 2007 was going to be THE year. V and I would take time off, decorate our OWN flat, embed traditions we’d inherited and started in our married lives as renting people. Does my life ever turn out like I plan? Um, no. Long story short, we didn’t take the day off. Came home late in somewhat freezing rain, joined our hands in prayer in front of an agarbatti, an Ikea tealight and our prayer shelf and then ate Maggie and cheese and tomato tasty toasties in front of the TV. Diya in every room and then blissful sleep. Not what I expected at all. I was upset about how little effort and time I had put into it all. And I carried that with me all year long.

Diwali Four - In 2003, a year and a half after we moved to London, we finally had an apartment that was big enough to fit in a proper sized crowd. So that Diwali (or rather the weekend before it) we had a HUGE party. 60 people, including loads of screaming children. Snacks and dinner and taash. It was a roaring success. But so draining that we never did it again. This year my beloved aunt and uncle will be in town. This is a sign we need to do something big. Or relatively bigger and better and more celebratory than the last dud year. So we decided to have a mini-party on Diwali day. It was an exercise in planning and precise execution considering it was a working day. From the select invited guests to a small spread of vegetarian food, it all worked to plan. We had diyas all over the house and lit our fabulous pair of valakkas (a wedding gift from the same aunt and uncle – so utterly apt). The house looked great and we all cleaned up pretty well too. It was not a long evening, having been a working day to be followed by another, but it was a fun evening, full of chatter and laughter and all things joyful. Even the lashing rain and mini-snowflake dance did nothing to dampen our spirits

So those are my chaar diwali stories, each different in location, shape and character. Each one a memory that I hold, some more dearly than others. I think we’ve set a good precedent, V & I, for diwali in our own home, borrowing from our many diwali’s before. I’ll be carrying the warmth of this one all year long. And looking forward to the next one.

Puja: prayer
Kheel: puffed rice
Khand ke khilone: animal shapes/ toys made of pure sugar
Batashas: candied sugar shaped like coins
Mathris: flaky salty biscuits/ crackers
Diyas: tea lights, these made out of teracotta/ mud
bahu: daughter-in-law
Jodi: couple
Agarbatti: incence stick
taash: card games
valakkas: free standing oil lamp from Kerala
chaar: four
chaar guna behtar: four times better

P.S.: I will add in a few pictures tonight.


  1. Your parents sound like mine..and your diwalis sound lovely

  2. How nice - what nice memories !!!
    Here's to many many more. I love how all of us have memories of one festival that we hold dear as couples :)

  3. Nice memories. I now need to get a vallaku for next diwali thats all I was missing this time.

  4. Great post. There is a joy in taking forward tradition, and in creating some of your very own--it becomes apparent when the kids ask, "Aren't we doing (whatever ritual/tradition) this year?"