First, I thought about food that my dadiji (grandmother) would make every Diwali. It was as much part of the ritual of the day as the new clay idols that my mother would buy – Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) and Ganesh (God of good luck and success).
Diyas (tiny mud lamps) with oil and cotton wicks were spread out on the roof, window sills and boundary walls. I maintained a smug superiority because we used traditional diyas over the more common (and durable) electric bulbs that draped over the nearby buildings.
Ever since I have my own home I have come to appreciate what my dadiji and mother did in the kitchen on Diwali or for that matter any festival. Chole (chickpeas), kachori (a kind of bread that is delicious, but probably not healthy at all), mithai (sweets), paneer (a kind of cheese) and a table full of more stuff to eat… To keep the old favourites, but add new dishes to the menu every year is a feat of its own.
One mystery in this ever evolving department of festive cuisine wonder is the Vada. At my house, you would get Dahi Vada ( a kind of lentil patty dipped in yoghurt, topped with seasoning, and if you are lucky, generous dollops of tamarind chutney). At my neighbour’s (and now my house as well) you would find Kanji Vada. Instead, of curd this recipe used water with ground mustard for a tangy after taste.
But, these memories, apart from making me desperately hungry, feel incomplete. The lights, the food, the competition between families on having the most extravagant spread of crackers, the general chaos and exaggerated excitement was important, but not what I want to write about.
Though at my house we never actually prayed to Ram on Diwali, all my textbooks in school taught me that Diwali was celebrated for the first time when Ram returned to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile.
The festival of lights – Diwali. An entire kingdom rejoiced at the return of their beloved king. They decorated the city with lights. After years of darkness and sadness, there was finally joy. Ram had come home.
Maybe, this home is what my memory of Diwali is about.
My home. I had a new one every year!
Even when my dadadji’s (grandfather) hands shook in old age, he still made a new one for me, without fail, until I got married. Just like he had made them for his daughter, my aunt, decades ago, until she got married.
A dollhouse for unmarried girls. Gharounda is what we call it. With clay pots and pans in vibrant colours (kuliya chukiya). A variety of puffed rice (lawa muri) and sugar candy (cheeni mithai) as offering. An idol of kali, to ward off evil and guard the house.
There were years when my dadaji would start building mud bricks with accurate measurement almost a month in advance. Some years the structure was of thermocol. Two stories high, with lights glowing inside and curtains of translucent paper. Sometimes there were plants lined up outside, at other times all my dolls preened outside. Once we had a fountain and a front lawn.
The dollhouse was symbolic of my future home. I am quite certain that is one of the big contributing factors that lured me into the idea of marriage. In Jab We Met, Kareena remarks, “mujhe bachpan se hi shadi karne ka bahut craze tha by god“.. or words to that effect. As a kid (actually even when for all practical purpose I was an adult; a thing my college friends are bound to point out if they read this), I was pretty much as crazy about marriage as Kareena in the movie.
As I grew older, this Diwali ritual got more elaborate. Girls from the house next door, girls who helped out in the kitchen and girls who were daughters of family friends would all come to fill those clay toy vessels with me.
We would light candles or diyas. In Bollywood style a vigil would be kept to see whose light burnt the longest. For some inexplicable reason, we believed that girl would be the first to marry!
The day after Diwali, I would stand surrounded by all the firecracker paper trail, smoke smudges and blackened diyas , look at my dollhouse and dream about a home as lovely as the one my dadaji had envisioned for me.
In Mythology and More, Writersbrew gives you a glimpse of Diwali as our writers celebrate it. The festival has different significance in different parts of India, among the various Hindu communities. Take a look at some of these customs, enjoy the stories. Here’s to light, everywhere.
Originally posted on 5/26/2016