Diwali meant a lot of things back then. It was not just about new clothes, firecrackers, or sweets.  Every Diwali, I go back in time to those moments when every single thing around the festival was filled with hope. I’m sure though that at the age of 10 or 11, I would’ve never thought of calling the days leading up to and the days after Diwali as ‘hopeful’ ​​Other festivals like Varalakshmi Pooja and Vinayaka Chaturthi make me nostalgic too. Particularly a longing for the soft, fluffy *kozhakkatais my mom used to make for both these festivals. However, Diwali was very special.

Diwali was THE festival of the humble, single-bedroom HAL Colony inhabitants in Bengaluru. Another festival that led to a flurry of activities was the Bogi Pongal where a lot of old stuff was piled up into a tall and huge stack and then set on fire. A symbolic riddance of all that’s old, bad, useless. I have a very vague memory of this bonfire ending in a fire accident and probably the practice was later abandoned. Being raised in a colony or ‘quarters’ as it is still called, provided the distinct advantage of having a cosmopolitan upbringing. I’ve absolutely no memory of Diwali or Bogi being ‘Hindu’ festivals. The same mood and festivity were seen around Christmas where we’d all gather to set up the manger. Most households sported the mandatory star, ushering in Christmas.

My mom used to stir up a magic concoction that would solidify into soft and porous mysorepakMysore Pak for not just our family, but also for ‘Joy’ aunty, our loving neighbor. Her name was Rosamma, but her children were nicknamed Joy and Chickoo. By virtue of being their mother, she became ‘Joy’ aunty. Mysore Pak was accompanied by a ‘Mixture’, a popular Indian savory. The process of making this ‘Mixture’ used to be fascinating. For it was really that, a mixture of a lot of fried savories. Unlike today, the ‘Mixture’ from my childhood never had cashews, almonds, or raisins. Fried peanuts and finely chopped coconut pieces in this ‘Mixture’, were considered a jackpot. My mom and my grandma tried in vain to shoo us away. There is this myth (even now in many households) that watching it during preparation would jinx the making, or it’d jinx the festival! However, we paid no heed and hovered around them and were willing ‘tasters’.

The foremost duty assigned to me the evening before Diwali was to gather or buy cow dung. Yes, you heard me right! Cow poop was and still is sacred among many households. I don’t ever remember feeling repelled by its texture, color, or odor. If we got lucky, the cows grazing in the open grounds in our colony would drop a generous helping of dungs. There’d be a few others waiting to strike gold ​​With a small plastic bucket and a spatula to scoop, we’d rush to the spot and mine the dung. If we don’t get lucky with the free droppings, we could always drop by our milkman’s house and he’d dispense off some dung for a few coins. This dung, so painstakingly obtained would be mixed in a bucket of water to a consistency that was probably a little runnier than the dosa batter. Every home had a small front yard of caked mud. Beautiful rangolis adorned this front yard. During Diwali, this small area got a thorough cleaning. This surface would then receive a fresh cow-dung coat that’d firmly seal the cracks and give it a darker sheen. This also prevented the dust from rising as all the loose mud would be firmly sealed in​​. The rangolis looked brighter.


My friends and I would then embark on the Rangoli project. This also included the cow-dung coat and rangoli for the neighbors, particularly Joy aunty. We’d shortlist and practice a few rangolis a few days before Diwali. In about 3 hours on Diwali eve, most of our front yards would be decked with beautiful rangolis. If I were to give the feeling a name, I might today call it both therapeutic and cathartic.

Another task where we (my sis and my friends in the neighborhood) showed equal or more enthusiasm in was the act and art of drying firecrackers. This would start a week before Diwali! We’d fervently pray that the rain god steered clear and the sun god blessed us with a copious amount of sunlight. We each had a palm winnow in which we’d dry our share of crackers. There would be one portion that was meant for pre-Diwali use. We’d religiously tug-off a bit of the paper wrapped on the wicks so it lights faster. I’d save up a few Waterbury’s Compound Red Label bottles ( a tonic usually prescribed back then in the HAL hospital to ward off cold or cough) and empty coconut shells. I’d arrange the rockets from the firecrackers in a way that they snugly fit into the mouth of the tonic bottle or underneath the coconut shells, and just pull the wick out.

The bottle would sometimes burst into shards along with the rocket. A very dangerous and senseless thing to do, I know. This was totally unsupervised and my parents had no clue whatsoever. A tiny shard once cut into my wrist and that was the last time I used the tonic bottle. My mom was sure that it was the work of some ‘rowdy’ kid and wondered on several occasions in the weeks that followed, on how people raised devils for kids. Also, for some reason, she assumed the rowdy was a boy. I never mustered the courage to own up and it’s one of the several things I regret not having told her.

Another thing to look forward to on the dawn of Diwali was the nice oil massage our dad used to give us. He would take a handful of warm gingelly oil and drip it on our heads slowly and would pat them down hard on our skulls​​He’d say something about the oil cooling the  hotheads he had for daughters 🙂  After the mandatory oil-bath, we’d be administered the Lehiyam/Legiyam/marundhu, a paste made of several herbs, jaggery, and cooked in ghee. My grand-mom made this from scratch.

Diwali was the only occasion when we got new clothes. It almost always was the same fabric, color, and pattern for both my sister and me​​They were always tailored. If we got a little lucky, we’d get different colors. The tailor used to get our dresses ready just the night before Diwali. The anticipation of how the dress and pattern would turn out when it would be ready, and when it’ll dawn, made us at once happy and restless.

Our grandma would pluck the mehendi leaves from our backyard and grind them to a fine paste on a stone pestle in the afternoon. After dinner, she would apply it on our palms even as she narrated the story of Narakasura for the umpteenth time. We never challenged the right and wrong: ) One well-guarded secret around this time was who’d set off the first firecracker. We’d wait for the alarm to go off at 4.00am. However, it would invariably turn out useless because someone always used to beat us to it. We’d be woken up as early as 3.30am by the loud noise of someone in the colony setting off the ‘atom bomb’ at that unearthly hour. We’ll join the ruckus right away by adding our own share of noise, explosions, and litter.

I don’t remember anything of the Diwali feast that must have been cooked because all the kids would be hopping in and out of the house with firecrackers and never seemed to tire of it. Though we never purchased a lot, we purchased the ones that came in several numbers and in bulk packs. The most favorite was the ‘bijli’- the famous, small singles. With about 3 or 4 packs, one could go on all day, bursting them one by one. The guns and capes were another favorite too. Pounding the capes with a stone seemed more fun and noisy than using the guns. The best was reserved for the evening. Most homes in the colony could not afford a decent television. So there was no lure or addiction. We spent most of the time outdoors and didn’t know otherwise.

There would be slight signs of withdrawal on the night of Diwali but we’d pretend that the day would still go on. The days that followed would involve sharing a lot of real and made up stories of the exploits and adventures of the firecrackers. None of us bothered to validate the accounts of our friends though. The innocence and guilelessness of that time make it surreal.

I can’t help but compare to the Diwali now. New clothes aren’t rare anymore while ordinary, quiet days have become rare​​New movie releases, TV channels hopping, out-sourced sweets and savories, expensive fireworks, a night sky lit with aerial shots, whatsapp-ing, facebook-ing, instagram-ing, Netflix-ing,  mark Diwalis now ​​I’m sure that this is an outlook of a boring adult, but I still think my children miss out on the simple joys that I was lucky enough to have as a child.

So, if you’ve been patient and kind enough to read until here, what were your favorite festivals? Do you have fond memories as 10 or 11-year-olds around Diwali or any festival that you’d care to share? Are there things you miss now? What aspects of the different festivals we celebrate do you enjoy now?

Wish you all a very happy, fun-filled, safe, and peaceful Diwali people!

*Kozhukattais– South Indian variation of momos filled with either spicy lentils or coconut and jaggery :))

Bangalore days and some more..

Deepavali back then meant my paternal grandma’s formula ‘legiyam’ or ‘lehyam’, my mom’s Mysore pak , rangolies, crackers, and tailored dress for the sis and I from the same cloth or at least of the same design but with different colors on them! The biggest work item assigned to us on this day would be to distribute sweets to all our neighbors in our colony, and that we did happily .

A few of my friends from our colony and I would collect empty ‘Waterbury’s Compound Red Label’ bottles and stash them away in a secret place to be used during Diwali. The open playground outside our row of houses used to be heaven. I was notorious back then too and have had very close misses with the abuse of crackers. My favorite prank was to snuff the narrow mouth of the Waterbury’s bottle’s with the rockets and pull just the wick out. The cracker would snugly fit in the mouth like a cork. The bottle would explode to pieces when the cracker burst.  I must’ve been pretty lucky because there were no accidents except once when a piece flew straight at me and tore my forearm slightly the last Diwali we were in Bangalore. Of course my parents were not aware that it was me and were busy heaping curses on some random rowdy kids resorting to such deadly pranks. I’d go mute too and so would all the partners in crime! Life since Bangalore days seems fast-forwarded!

Diwali makes me all nostalgic. Somehow, no Diwali after Bangalore ones have been the same. I guess growing up makes you all boring and serious at times J Crackers are not interesting anymore. New clothes are fine, but yeah, it is available more easily as opposed to the days when birthdays used to be the only other occasion that commanded the same respect. Sweets and savories are consumed with a touch of guilt too. Again, these are not restricted any more to occasions like Diwali or wedding. There are more special occasions now than the normal days, so much so that normal days start feeling special and you feel the need to celebrate!

But then, growing up also hurls you into another phase where you realize you are fortunate to be where you are, to be surrounded by your loved ones, to know that the other dear ones are just a call or email away and they’d be thinking and talking about you just the way you do about them, that you are free to be who you are than to be what the others expect of you, that you can fight tooth and nail to defend your thoughts and actions and not be judged for it, that you are blessed with a sense to accept your loved ones with all the dents, fractures, plasters, and their beautiful hearts just like how you are accepted..

Growing up also makes us (ok, at least me!) sentimental! Happy Diwali to you, all the wonderful people I’ve known. May this Diwali and every other Diwali light up your lives with good health, positive thoughts, and abundant joy. Always.

Diwali is not over yet!

One of Varun’s fav breakfast combo is poooyee – chaach (poori and tomato sauce). After he is done with the pooris, you’ll find him licking away the last bit of sauce on his fingers.

The scene however was a little different this morning. He got hold of a long straw from a broom and diligently dipped one end of it in the left over tomato sauce, faked lighting a cracker with the right arm stretched forward and the left behind, his knees bent at that angle. He apparently set fire on that apocryphal cracker and backed away. And there, the crackers went damaal, dimeel, damaal. Virtually. Several times.

Diwali 2010…

The day started for the little Vs at 4.30 AM and Varun must have been a confused boy for the best part of the day not understanding why the streets rocked damaal-dimeel thus!

NalanguThe new clothes were laid out on trays and kolams were done the previous night. The 4 Vs, the BIL and his better half assembled in a row as is the custom here. The paatti smeared our feet with turmeric paste and topped it with the usual ‘nalangu’ pattern using kumkum, followed by oiling our hair with a sound pat on the head:) The thatha systematically rolled a beetle leaf with the nut which each of us had to chew. Varun was bathed first and Vyas followed and then the mommy.

Vyas this DiwaliThe brothers

This Diwali was specially special because Vyas, though stuck inside the house for the best part of the day, actually came out to the terrace to see the beautiful aerial works and let us light some flower-pots and sparklers! Its a big milestone reached for the 2 of us personally!! And he said he loved them though from a distance!! And he surprised us the next evening by expressing his desire to hold a color-sparkler himself and he lit a few!! The entire credit goes to his 13 yr old friend Varsha who lives in the apartment below ours!! She literally reserved some aerials and sparklers to showcase it to the 2 Vs. Vyas didn’t take quite well to the aerials because it actually explodes and so he retreated and joined once the exploding stuff were done with!

In a little while, he called it time and counseled Varsha saying she had contributed enough to the pollution and that it was time to get indoors!!

Any jokes or comments aimed at his fear of crackers was well received by him. He acknowledged the fact and shrugged off saying, “Yes, am scared and I don’t like it. I am like that! You go ahead and do if you are not scared”. And he is right.

Lakshmi PoojaVarun this Diwali

I wonder what was going through Varun’s mind. He kept saying- pattaachu dammaal, but also topped it up with a loud -Yaay- cheer and claps every time a 100-wala or 1000-wala went up somewhere. He was too willing to come out and watch the fireworks. On an impulse, I carried the little fellow and together we set off a Lakshmi-vedi and a flower pot and he appeared thrilled! He lit quite a few sparklers and wanted more!

He was an enthusiastic participant in the Lakshmi pooja we perform early in the evening this day, hurling the akshadai and flowers in random directions and occasionally on Lakshmi or at her feet:)

The exposure to crackers smoke did its share and the little fellow has been coughing away the last few days and nights:( The anna does not let an opportunity pass and was quick to point out the ills the crackers bring and says that is exactly why he loathes them!

Kuppura vizhildhalum, meesaile mannu ottale!!

My Tenali and Diwali

Diwali announces its arrival with booms and bangs in almost every street corner at least one week before the actual day of the festival and the crackers continue to rock for several days after that. While most kids love to scan the crackers list and push their parents/grand-parents to extend the crackers budget, our man Vyas, is a kid in utter distress! You just have to mention ‘C’ in crackers and he is sure to close the door on you!

His hands are permanently glued to his ears and he is mostly found with his legs curled up on the couch. He calls a total bandh during Diwali and refuses to step out of the house to visit the temple, kolla patti, his cousins, or friends on this day. Crackers are my boy’s worst nightmare. Any amount of encouragement, reasoning, bullying has not helped in allaying his fears. ‘People must be mad to burst crackers!’ he declares!

As if to prove him right, last Diwali, my uncle made him stand at the door and lighted a bhoomi-chakram (ground- chakkar if you may call it), and to our dismay, it exploded! “See, I told you crackers are not safe. You people are out of your minds”, he yelled! He does not conceal his fear, but he will also attribute it to factors like pollution, child labor, and fire accidents!

I’ve recounted several of my tyrsts with crackers as a kid to substantiate that if we exercise caution, it is fun to light the crackers in the company of family and friends, but nay, he’d have none of it! Aashi, his 6.5 yr old younger sis, is bindaas and is totally cool about crackers:)

Vyas thinks my pranks of thrusting a rocket to snugly fit the mouth of a Waterbury’s Compound tonic bottle and then light it, is the most ‘stupidest’ act ever and wonders how my mom never figured out the bottles in my possession!

Its years since I’ve burst crackers myself and I’m absolutely fine and agree with him on not touching the stuff. But the fear is something I’d like him to overcome. Am sure he’ll come around, but the agony he goes through is something I can’t bear to see! His eyes are moist for the best part of the day:(

This Diwali, two of his friends from our apartments have taken it upon themselves to put Vyas’s fears to rest! Varun was barely 6 months old last Diwali and was ‘well protected’. This time, thanks to his anna, he has been saying , “pattachu dammaaal, dimmeel, bayam” everytime he hears an atom bomb explode two streets away!! Let me see how it goes with my boys this time!!

Will post updates the coming weekend!!!

Till then,in keeping with the ‘Enthiran- The Robot’ season:

Happy Diwali

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