Diwali my way!

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It’s Diwali with a difference, as our readers introduce a modern touch

 

Photo by Rajesh Kumar

 

 

It’s Diwali 2012! And once again, the urge to celebrate the festival of lights with its traditional fanfare is upon us. We want to go the whole shebang – new clothes, festive food, decorations, parties, fireworks – to relive the atmosphere of past Diwali celebrations.

Memories of sweet and dried fruit boxes brought home by parents as gifts by grateful employers; the mandatory plate of sweets distributed by friends and neighbours, literally going house to house, the excitement at going to the shops to choose fireworks… they’re all deliciously revered, specially because we live in Australia.

And that means adapting, mainly because Diwali is not a public holiday, so many of us work while our children go to school. Let’s be practical, it’s hard to feel like celebrating mid-week, knowing that you have to face the next working day.

But that doesn’t stop us from celebrating with a vengeance, mostly on the closest weekend after Diwali. That’s when we revive our rowdy roistering to Bollywood beats in one or several dhinchak parties, inviting friends and family over to join in the revels. We revive the spirit of Diwali, and we succeed.

But let’s make Diwali 2012 even more special by creating our own traditions and adding them to how we normally celebrate the Festival of Lights. Let’s introduce a spirituality and meaning in our own individual way, which we can repeat in future years if we choose.

Indian Link asked its readers for some ideas on how to make Diwali different, perhaps by adding a touch of modernity to a tradition, or extending generosity to include a good cause. It may be a unique way to celebrate, but hey, we’re creating our own traditions!

 

Light ‘em up, baby!

Remember the time when the ledges of verandas and doorways were lit up with beautifully painted clay diyas? For three days (sometimes more) their little flames shimmered and sparkled in the evening air and despite being a fire hazard, they were tended with loving care, and extinguished only after the festivities had ended and the last guest had left the home.

Nowadays we use tealights instead of the oil and wick, which is still meaningful and less messy, and we adorn our porches with fairy lights. The battery-operated flameless candles are even more convenient, and you can even get ones that flicker. But this year, why not think a special candle, or a few special ones? Almost universally the concept of light means hope and new beginnings.

Candles are available in abundance, and in a variety of shapes, sizes and aromas that boggle the mind. They can be found in dollar or boutique shops, depending on how snobbish you may be. Find a candle that holds a special meaning for you, like a beautiful lotus flower to indicate serenity, or a stylish high-heeled shoe for the more materialistic.

Supreet Mohindru of Kangaroo Point QLD gets her kids involved: this year, it’s a book candle for her daughter requesting divine blessings as she sits for Year 12 exams, and a motorbike candle for her daredevil son. “My husband would probably like a beer candle, but has to refrain given the religious sentiment of it all!”

Rajni Anand Luthra of St. Ives NSW remembers when it was a family tradition to get the kids to buy their own candles: the pooja plate looked a bit strange with frog candles, skull candles and thong candles, and for a few years repetitively, soccer-ball candles, but she allowed the kids their whim, having instituted the ritual. The number candles that were put on birthday cakes in the year, were also brought out at Diwali and lit as “special candles”, if only to use them up and prevent them from lying around in kitchen drawers, but it made the kids feel part of the entire candles ritual.

No matter what your taste and inclination, light a candle for goodwill and for the things you may want most in the coming year. The more creative, the better. And if you’re inclined, perhaps make or decorate your own candle to celebrate this special festival.

 

Dance party, Gangadhar style!

Where would we be without our Diwali parties! The dhamaka that goes with guests arriving all bedecked in their traditional finest, the women glittering with sequins and stones, the men looking dapper and deodorised. It’s time to get into party mode, let loose and dance the night away, helped along the path of toe-trodding with a couple of large whites, browns or whatever’s going!

Theme parties are always a hit, perhaps a Halloween or Bollywood one to get people in the groove. Naturally, everyone brings a plate to make things easier on the host who’s put his home at risk by offering to throw the party. But this time, like the Singhs of Orange NSW, make it a mite different.

“We’re asking our guests to carry a small donation with them, and anonymously place the money in a covered jar at the entrance of our home,” said Kulwinder Singh. “It can then be donated to a charity like the Cancer Council the next day, after the hangover wears out.” It’s a great way to get people thinking of sharing and caring on Diwali, without the pressure of attending a formal fundraiser.

 

Fun food

Imagine this: you wake up at 5am to cook a whole batch of traditional sweets to offer guests at the party you’re hosting that night. And at the end of the party, the sweet tray is virtually untouched. All your cholesterol conscious friends have decided that ghee and sugar are a deadly combination, and they’re not sure if you’ve used low-fat milk!

This year, in deference to popular trends, make your Diwali spread a healthier one.

How about crudités as a first course, served up differently – individual serves of neatly cut veggies, with their own dip, all in a tiny glass? Not only will they look fab on the table waiting to be picked up, they will also be easy to walk around with.

You could do the same with the main meal. In addition to that delicious jeera or vegetable pulao, have an offering of couscous or brown basmati rice. Baked paneer, instead of curried paneer. Indian spiced quinoa salad, maybe. Stuffed zucchini flowers. Time to bring out that Nigella Lawson / Gary Mehigan / Neil Perry cookbook….

Now how about dessert, a tough one as kheer or malai kulfi may get the thumbs down.

Anita Shetty of  Wentworthville NSW has just been diagnosed with diabetes and she has vowed to have a fruity Diwali. “I hope it sticks as a family tradition!” she says.

Fortunately in this enlightened age, there are always alternatives to consider.

Geeta Pandit of Ballarat, Vic, a dietician by profession, says while she will have a few mithais around for her Diwali dinner, her piece de resistance will be a massive fruit platter, no doubt with some exotic stuff thrown in there: dragon fruit, lychees, pomegranate, mangosteen, durian, kumquats, starfruit, jackfruit, rambutans. Fancy!

But don’t cut out all the goodies if you don’t want to: make your usual spread, only less rather than more. You’ll be amazed at how much your guests will enjoy this kind of spread.

 

Rousing rituals

Now there are some things that are synonymous with Diwali, like the traditional pooja which is attended by the whole family and close friends. Some traditions should remain unchanged, but why not invite some of your non-Indian friends to participate in the pooja and the meal that follows, like the Bhambhani family of Henley Beach SA. “I have friends from my mother’s group and my husband’s work colleagues who will come over for Diwali and they are a mixed group,” says Sharmila Bhambhani. Regardless of the origin of their nationalities, they will get an insight into the festival and who knows, it could mean the start of a better cross-cultural understanding as they reciprocate the invitation to join in celebrating Christmas or Eid. Besides, if you can convince your Aussie friend to get into a sari, think of the amount of hits your YouTube upload of her tripping over would get. It would be an instant hit, Gangnam style!

 

Diwali decor

“I haven’t been able to do my traditional Diwali decorations very well in the last couple of years because of our latest family member – the puppy!” bemoans Nisha Chaman of Perth. The earthern lamps with oil are a clear danger; the floral rangoli is an appealing play area for the canine, and the traditional swastika markings with kumkum-and-rice mixtures have to be completely avoided, as the pup can lick them clean.

“This year I’ve stuck upon a new idea,” Nisha reveals. “Guests are going to see ‘tablescape’ decorations instead of rangoli and lamps.”

In a sample tablescape that Nisha made up for us in her elegant Nedlands home, she picked candles of different sizes and laid them out on some satin fabric, adding matching rocks in silver, as well as rock dust to decorate. Silver ornaments were put to creative use, such as pooja items, filigree boxes, and silver ‘Shubh-Laabh’ and Ganesh-Lakshmi coins, as well as a strategically placed flower or two.

“I think it’s a nice touch of sophistication, without having to over-decorate”.

The idea, she reveals, came from lifestyle magazines in India.

Meanwhile for the Chawla family in Castle Cove NSW, fairy lights will adorn strategic vantage points on the porch and balcony until January, as Christmas follows Diwali.

“Our neighbours now know that it’s Diwali, and that we haven’t gone a bit mental and begun Christmas celebrations way too early”, says Dinesh Chawla. “The Sharmas down the street do the same thing, and their home always has a cheerful, festive look on Diwali”.

Rangoli on our doorstep is also a good idea, but it’s likely to be smeared off in the first ten minutes, so chalk would be a better option” says Meera Joshi from Kellyville NSW. “By slightly wetting the chalk before making your design, it tends to stay put for a while longer, instead of getting smudged right away”.

Rangoli designs are a great way to get your kids involved in creating unusual artworks, with possibly a few Aboriginal designs in different colours too.

“Inside the house we’ll put up the usual streamers,” Meera adds, “but my older son has now taught me that origami is a breeze when you watch how it’s done on YouTube. We will end up making festive lanterns in different colours, hanging them at strategic points in the house”.

 

A round of taash

The tradition of playing cards on Diwali is an age-old one, and the only day in the year on which you can legitimately gamble. Legend has it that the Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva on Diwali, and she decreed that whoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year. What better reason to play flush, rummy or teen-patti! Kulwinder Singh has planned a big do this Diwali.

“I’m planning to get the players to pledge to donate a small percentage of their winnings to charity,” he says.

“They’re already having a go at me for making this year a ‘donate to Diwali’ affair,” he adds, tongue in cheek. And if you’re not into gambling, bring out the UNO or memory card game, and maybe Lady Lakshmi will smile on you for the rest of the year.

 

Fireworks or lack thereof

Many of us would think it isn’t fair to have to spend a quiet Diwali without the customary noise pollution brought about by lighting crackers at any time of the day or night. But most others would be grateful for undamaged eardrums, clean air to breathe and the absence of toxic fumes. Visiting India during Diwali a few years ago, the sight of a thick pall of smoke hanging heavily on the city for several days was an appalling sight. Firecrackers, proudly called atom bombs, would go off literally in our backyard at 4am, while the staccato sound of fireworks going off reverberated in the distance through the night. People living in India are used to the noise, but imagine creating that kind of din on your quiet street. You’d have half the police force armed with tasers and the like in your backyard, eager to join the revelries.

“We usually confine ourselves to sparklers which the kids also enjoy as they are relatively safe,” says Nisha Chaman. “But this year, given the weather, we may opt for water pistol fights as well. It’s great fun, generates as much excitement as fireworks and everyone is happy to participate”.

 

So this year, do something different to make Diwali more meaningful and memorable. Make sure you take lots of photographs to feature in next year’s Indian Link Diwali special!