It’s the eve of Diwali and as I gaze outside the windows of my flat in Mumbai, a rocket pierces the Mumbai suburb skyline. I and my daughter of 5 follow the rocket’s trail as it culminates into a colourful sparkle in the sky. The excitement in her eyes watching that rocket sparkle and explode is palpable. The last few Diwalis, our tryst with crackers has been limited to just using the senses of our eyes and ears. It was not like that 3 decades ago. Diwali or rather Deepavali in those times was more than just a festival.
Flash back to the 70’s – as a 10-year-old, we were living in Thillai Nagar a residential colony in a small town called Trichy in Tamil Nadu where I spent my entire schooling years. “D-97″ the house in which we lived for better part of those 15 years – is etched in our collective family’s memories. As a family, we have not celebrated Deepavali as we did in “D-97” before or after.
The excitement starts 6-8 weeks before the D-day I mean Deepavali Day. Unlike these days where, as mall rats we keep doing shopping at the drop of hats and buy clothes as and when, those days clothes buying happened mostly once a year basically during Deepavali. At an appointed day, doing that clothes shopping for all in the family for Deepavali was certainly fun. In those pre ‘Ready to wear’ days, tailors during Deepavali time were more sought after than Sadhu Maharajs of today!. The next task was to buy the crackers. Invariably there was a competition between friends and neighbours as to who were burning more currency on fireworks! Even correcting for today’s inflation, I guess crackers were affordable those days. Spending 50 Rs on crackers was considered sort of reasonable and if you spend more than Rs 100 you have arrived. We used to spend Rs 30-50 and that was enough to last for the whole of Deepavali day with few pieces remaining for “Karthigai” – another light festival which follows soon. The 3rd bit was related to gastronomic delights which were homemade! So there was, my mom – going all out to prepare savouries and sweets at home in time mostly all alone. Buying outside and eating or distributing to others during Deepavali was considered inappropriate for the occasion.
With all these preparations in place – you await very excitedly for the day to come. While Deepavali in south India mostly is celebrated to revel at the killing of “Narakasura” by Lord Krishna, in North India it is to celebrate the return of Lord Rama from Vanvas!!! But frankly speaking, it didn’t matter. Deepavali was more about new clothes, crackers and Pet puja! The previous day to Deepavali – one would sleep early to wake up quite early ( 3 am ) on Deepavali day. The idea was to go out there 1st and burst the 1st “56 wala giant” (garland like crackers) and try to announce to the neighbourhood that you are up. After the customary oil bath with hot water from a boiler (heard of this appliance of late???), we use to wear the new clothes, pay respects to parents and the next minute we are down for the most exciting part of Deepavali proceedings – bursting of crackers. For the next 4- 5 hours it was just pure fun as crackers, bombs, flower pots, trains, chakras and sparklers from your house and outside compete to increase the decibel levels and luminous intensity of the city. The side effect is the driving out of mosquitoes from their water-bed apartments! (drainage to be precise)!!!
While the kids ( we ) get into the tiring zone, its time for the elders to emerge and do their bit of cracker bursting for “Sasthram” (tradition) and customary exchanges of “Ganga Snanam Aacha”? The bath you have in your bathroom under a shower on Deepavali day is akin to taking bath in the Ganga River as per Hindu mythology. Ganga Snanam ??? My daughter understands “Gangnam Style” better!!! Part 2 of the cracker bursting (which are usually the left overs) starts after the breakfast. The staple Idli somehow tastes better on Deepavali day! As I mentioned earlier, there is an unwritten competition as to who bursts more crackers and the same is judged by the amount of ‘kuppai’ (garbage) in front of the house. The person who always had the last laugh on this was our next door mama who used to wake up late, get ready at his own pace, come out last after all of us kids finish our crackers and fire few dozens of ‘walas’ one by one thereby generating more noise and more Kuppai!!! The ‘Hare and the Tortoise’ story didn’t have better live similes.
The next few hours go in adding few kilo calories as you taste one peda from one plate, one piece of halwa from another and few jamuns from here and there. After all you are expected to do justice to your friend’s moms who have taken trouble to make and distribute. Did thoughts of cholesterol, fatty acids, .. cross your mind ? Well, Nope. You had the specially made “Deepavali Legiyam” (medicine) to take care of all your gastro issues. In the evening again part 3 of cracker bursting is done and with that Deepavali comes to an end. Eating of the sweets continues for a few more days though!!!
As I grew up and got into the teens, the festival of light kept changing its colours. At 15 and after, crackers are not fun anymore and they are more of “carbonizing” hard earned money. What’s the point in burning away money in crackers for few hours (which became minutes in few years) of fun? Do all teenagers get this streak of socialistic idealism in that period? It’s not just the age. Blame it on technology as well. As cable TV revolution swept India, not only Deepavali, but nature of celebrating any festival changed forever. So quality of your Deepavali depended on the quality of programming in the channels that year! From Sun to Vijay to Jaya to Raj and back to Sun, Deepavali day became quite hectic and tiring operating the remote and hopping channels. I was never into watching films so much those days – so films were not part of my Deepavali routine. But for many, watching a Deepavali release movie on that day itself gave a high and perhaps this is the only part which has lasted till date!!! I hear that one has to fork Rs 500 for a ticket for SRK starrer “Jab Tak Hai Jan” for tomorrow! There are many ways to get into the 100 crore club you see. Either get more people to watch or increase the ticket rate for the few people who come to watch!
Tomorrow is Diwali and as Mid-life crisis catches up though in Mumbai now – we are trying to celebrate the “D-97” way. Want our daughter to remember “Diwali” not as another holiday or a new film release day or a day where you have special programmes on TV throughout the day! Crackers are back though in very small measure abandoning the thought that crackers just carbonize your money. And yes will have a nice “Ganga Snanam” in Mumbai!!!
Postscript: It’s been after quite a while that I stepped into a cracker shop. As I was looking at the list the shop keeper asked “Sir can I give you a new item? – Kejri bomb” khub chalti hai aajkal !!!”