Friday, November 16, 2012

Memories of Diwali

The funny thing about blogging - the more you write, the more easily the posts come! After even a short break, it's hard to get back in the swing of things! Add to that a really sluggish Internet connection, a flaky VPN, gloomy winter weather and a mild case of the blues after the parents went back to India - and just turning on the computer becomes a monumental task! Anyway, trying to get the blogging ball rolling again with this post...

Yesterday was the last day of Diwali...our first Diwali here in Suzhou! Very low-key - for the first time in years, I made almost no 'faral'. We are actually still recovering from the snacks my mother brought with her last month - I know, what a lame excuse! Well, what can I say -  just didn't feel up to the task this year. Ajey had taken a day off, and we spent a very unexpected fun day shopping in Shanghai. In the evening, new clothes and Laxmi Puja and jamuns. As per tradition, we left the front door open all evening, my Chennai diyas shining invitingly on our front porch and steps, to welcome Goddess Laxmi into the house. After Ajey explained this to Manasi, she kept glancing at the front door - finally, at dinner, she exclaims "Mom, I see HER - I just now saw a tiger's tail and a crown - it has to be Laxmi, she's come to bless us!" Out of the mouths of babes, indeed! Saturday will be the big celebration with our friends - a Diwali party with about 15 Indian families living here in Suzhou. Lots of fire-crackers, and great food! Good times coming up!!

Growing up, Diwali was always at my grandparents' house in Sangli. I don't think I ever fully appreciated it then, but if ever there was a perfect Diwali - that was it! November in Sangli is cold - no floor heaters, no central heat - in fact, no heating system what-so-ever. No running hot water, so brushing teeth early in the morning was very, very refreshing - sure to jolt anyone wide awake! One bathroom, at least 40 people to share it! And yet, the Diwali spirit always prevailed. Again, didn't appreciate it then - my grandmother and aunts must have slaved to make all those different kinds of faral - name it and we had it! Big aluminium containers full of chivda, chakli, karanji, kadboli, shev, 5 types of laddus, anarase, chirote, was endless! This was before the era of disposable paper plates - so for the morning faral we all got a quarter sheet from an old newspaper to eat from - convenient and recyclable! There was also the big 'faral' exchange - all our neighbours got a huge plate with a sampling of all the faral made in our house, and in return, they would send us 'faral' they had made! Good way to get to know who has made what!

The day, of course, began with sprinkling water in the front yard, and the rangoli. Radio tuned to Akashvani, so we woke up to Marathi songs. Endless rounds of tea. Marie biscuits for the grownups, and shankarpale to dunk into the tea for kids! Water for bathing being heated in an ancient copper water heater. Seriously, a couple of years ago in Chennai, I saw that type of water heater in a museum!! On the Diwali days, oil massages before baths! The best part was the new soap - we always had a brand new pink 'Moti' soap for Diwali. To this day, 'Moti' for me means Diwali! After the morning 'faral', we children left to play outside - well, I usually curled up with a book - and lunch prep started! What an enormous undertaking - feeding so many people a huge lunch, and then, the well-deserved siesta - followed once again by afternoon tea and dinner prep! Whew, exhausting just to think about it!

As soon as dusk set in, the lighting of the diyas. The word Diwali comes from 2 Sanskrit words - Deep, lights and Awali, a row - Deepawali or Diwali. To me, these lights are the most beautiful part of Diwali. Today, everyone decorates with electric lights, and the the little clay diyas are fast fading away - but can garish bulbs ever match the serenity of an oil lamp? I loved to help in setting out the lamps along the perimeter of the house - to be honest, that was probably the only thing I helped out with. Then dressing up in new clothes for the Laxmi Puja. In these affluent times, when we buy what we want, when we want - the thrill of 'new clothes' has sadly disappeared from our lives. The Puja also lasted a long time - the aarti went on for over an hour at times. Then the fireworks - sparklers, of course, and the favorite 'Laxmi bombs' along with others with no 'Boom' but a lot of 'Bling'!

Celebrating Diwali in later years, in US or even in Chennai, has never been able to match up. The atmosphere is always missing. People thronging the streets for last-minute shopping, the week-long vacation, the fire-works stalls, the brightly lit shops, the paper lanterns hanging from all balconies and porches, the flower torans, the rangolis, friends and families visiting each other, the acrid smell of gunpowder mingling with the sharp chill in the air, yes, even the deafening booms as the fireworks go off - how do you recreate all that? We did throw a couple of Diwali parties for our friends in Chennai - great fun, we got an electrician to light up the house, Ajey went out and bought a whole bunch of firecrackers, really good food and of course, somebody to clean up later! Last year, Diwali in Peoria, Manasi kept asking when the 'man' was coming to put up the lights. Ajey was travelling, so our house stayed unlit - except for the diyas, of course!

To end on a philosophical note - Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil. My wish for this Diwali is to be able to see the good in my daily life. Just as I swept the cobwebs from my house to prepare for Diwali, I hope I can sweep my mind clear of bitterness and misunderstandings and differences. Just as I made my home inviting for Laxmi, I hope I can invite good thoughts into my heart. Just as the oil lamp with its tiny flame strives to provide light, I hope I can provide warmth and comfort to my family and friends.

A very Happy Diwali to all of you!

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