I am nostalgic for the olden days…especially at Diwali.
The days leading to Diwali were packed with things to do. First it was the clothes. The only time we got new clothes was for our birthdays and Diwali. Sometimes when dad had some money to splurge then we were bought clothes for Pongal too. When we were little, our clothes were all tailored. First my mom picked the material after a lot of deliberation. Then the tailor came home to take measurements and gave us a date by which he could deliver the stitched clothes. Amma would always insist that it came at least a week before Diwali, however, the tailors of those days were infamous for the deadline misses. So some years our clothes have arrived the night before Diwali! Imagine how stressful that would be.
When I was older, my mom would take me Diwali shopping to let me choose what I wanted. I remember a time when a friend and I decided that we will both pick a pair of jeans. That way we could wear them the same day as well and not be laughed at! Those days, being seen in a pair of jeans in Trichy was unheard of and no one dared wear a pair unless you had company.
The women in the neighborhood would wait to show off their ‘Diwali purchases’. The women knew who was going Diwali shopping on what days. A common question one would get asked in the days leading up to Diwali was ‘Diwali shopping aacha” (Is shopping for Diwali done?). Such was the importance given to the festival. When the men left for the factory at 7 in the morning the day after shopping was done, the women would linger in the compounds waiting to catch the eyes of the other women, who were busy seeing off their husbands and children. No duties around the house would start until the newly acquired clothes were shown to a few neighbors. The woman of the house will then recall how lucky she was to find the colour / pattern/ size of her choice and how there were half a dozen people eyeing it after she had made the choice. She would earn an appropriate collective exclamation from the other women who had been invited to view the buys. Then she would advise the others of the shops that had better choices and value for money spent. The same ritual followed till all the women in the neighborhood completed the shopping.
With kids, especially the boys, the talk was always about how many different kinds of crackers they were going to burst that Diwali. The parents smartly put away a few boxes from the previous Diwali and brought them out a week or ten days before the event. Then there was this ritual of drying the crackers to take away the moisture. So when the sun was out, the family made sure they sunned out the crackers so that they would all be crisp and ready for the D day. Invariably, the skies would turn grey and make sure that the crackers were moist again!
Then there was the planning for the sweets! Sometimes, families in the colony where I grew up, got together and decided to have sweets made at home in large quantities to be distributed to 20 to 30 families.. So they pooled in their resources and got ladoos, mysore pak, jaangri, mixture, murukku, jamoons , ribbon, kaara sev, made at home by professional sweet masters.
On the night before Diwali, my dad would get the kerosene stove ready to heat up water for the traditional, “oil bath”, not before Mom had helped scrub the bathroom floors clean and adorning the stove and the raised platform on which the kerosene stove was placed, with rangoli. Amma would then draw a huge complicated rangoli outside the front gate of the house and allow us to colour the design with our choice of colors. Sometimes, it would rain in the night and wash the entire effort with just traces of where it was drawn, the next morning! She would then make sure to smear the new clothes with turmeric, placed on a tray along with the oil and crackers, and the lehiyam in front of the Gods’ sanctum. The family would be so excited that we would hardly sleep a wink!
That was another something that we discussed on the morning of Diwali. Who woke first at each house? Who woke up first in the neighborhood? Who burst the first cracker? My dad would make sure that one set of crackers were burst when one of us was in the bath. It was a ritual! The house would smell of heady aromas – the oily sweets, new clothes, smoke from the crackers being burst and the sounds of nadaswaram on radio.
Among the girls, we competed on who would appear first, with new clothes on, the morning of Diwali. So we hurriedly washed our hair with shikakai powder and rushed out before the oil totally washed off. Much against amma’s wishes and warning not to wear new clothes before she wiped us dry, with dripping oily wet hair, we quickly wore our new clothes and ran to the front gate to look around and announce that we were first!
Then began the noisy crackers that lasted till the sun was overhead and past noon. The Christian and Muslim families in the colony were the only ones that would wait to taste the sweets and savories that the Hindu’s brought to share.
Diwali over the years has changed so much…
Today we buy clothes every season, without rhyme or reason.
Today we avoid sweets because of diet or diabetes.. Or indulge in it without reason.
Today we believe in going green and not contributing to the already polluted air…
Today we have no time for neighbors.. nor do they have for us.
Today we use branded shampoo and use geyser heated showers..
Wish Diwali from my childhood days were here again!