The Indian subcontinent has always been famous for its unique and wide cultural diversity, traditions and customs. Almost every other day ushers in a festival in our country, each one holding its own distinct fervour and charm.
With Diwali just around the corner in these ‘testing times’ (pun intended) of the corona virus, I have been in a reflective and nostalgic mood for a while and have been pondering over the lost values, rituals and significance of this all-important festival.
As a perfect example of an oxymoron, I realise with dismay that nothing appears to have changed in the way we celebrate Diwali per se; yet everything is different from what it used to be.
Fascinating memories of childhood Diwali festivities
A few days prior to Diwali would begin the ritual of cleaning every nook and corner of our home and office. Ladders, mops and brooms of all shapes and sizes would suddenly appear out of nowhere. An army of men and women would direct these ‘missiles’ towards the ceilings, walls, floors and cupboards, doing a deep cleanse as they went by.
As children, we’d be banished to a room at the far end of the house along with our grandmother, so that we could stay away from the dust and dirt. But me being the curious kid I was, I would look for every opportunity to sneak away and observe what appeared to be a very complex yet meticulous operation.
Diwali cleaning also meant the clearing away of all old and unwanted stuff which included everything from newspapers, books, clothes, utensils, toys, tyres to even items of furniture and electronics. All of these were then piled up and kept in the garage to be given away to the kabadiwala. The key word here is ‘given away’ because we never ever ‘sold’ off our unwanted stuff.
The Diwali celebrations of yore
When the big day arrived, the gardeners would get busy with the decorations. They would split bamboos into two long halves and use them as makeshift shelves on which would be placed earthen diyas. It would be the duty of the maids to fill the diyas with mustard oil and keep ready for the elders in the family to set alight once the sun set.
In the evening, every family member would dress up in new clothes and be a part of the customary puja. Puja done, the children would burst simple crackers while the elders lit diyas. The whole house would then be illuminated — a spectacle to behold.
The Diwali dinner was an elaborate spread of traditional homemade sweets and savouries. Huge thaalis laden with sweets, dry fruits and other delicacies would be sent across to assorted relatives and friends. They too would reciprocate in a similar manner. Looking back, I can still smell the aroma of the mouth-watering halwa sent by a favourite aunt! Food that came from other homes seemed to have an altogether different appeal and would be devoured with great gusto.
Post Diwali, there was this custom of all relatives visiting each other’s homes to pay respect to elders and gather their blessings. The touching of feet of elders was a sacred ritual strictly followed. It was a happy festival of fun, pleasantries and bonding with family and friends.
Diwali is no more like what it used to be
In current times, when I see people haggling with the kabadiwalas for meagre amounts, it makes me cringe. Surely, we can part with all our junk for free and help them celebrate their Diwali in a dignified manner. I actually feel it is these less affluent souls who should ideally be charging us for taking away our discarded stuff.
Earthen diyas have been replaced by candles and obnoxious Chinese made lights. New clothes are no longer a novelty as they are bought all round the year. Crackers are banned for causing noise and air pollution. In all honesty, it is as if banning them will ensure clean air and peace all year round.
Homemade food platters are no longer exchanged. They have been replaced by sweets from shops where quality leaves much to be desired. Touching of feet as a mark of respect has been replaced with air blown kisses, hugs and high fives. To top it all, the corona virus has made visiting friends and relatives a risky affair.
I live in nostalgia during Diwali
How I wish I could show the present generation the Diwali we’d celebrate! To those who are reading this and wondering how we could make Diwali more meaningful, I have a few humble suggestions. More than just cleaning our homes, let us clean our hearts from all kinds of hatred and prejudices. Let us light the spark of hope among those affected by Covid-19 and those helping to fight the virus. Let us gift our junk to the kabadiwalas and brighten their homes. How about we wear new values of gratitude and appreciation for everyone and everything? I guarantee you will certainly enjoy the best Diwali ever.
They say change is the only constant. And in keeping with this thought, how about adopting these basic changes?