Diwali during a global pandemic is probably something you never saw coming. Usually, during this season, there’s a strong urge to avoid over-zealous relos and just muck around with mates. Maybe that urge eroded away these past few months, and you might just do whatever it takes to feel like you’re living in a pre-COVID world.
Well, you’re not the only one.
If you thought this year’s Diwali would be a downer, you’re highly mistaken. Knowing that there are people out there who share your feelings, can be comforting. Here are some eccentric excerpts that might help your Diwali withdrawal and renew your faith in the festive season. From spiked sharbat to pompous parties, folks tell us here what they love, hate or miss about the Festival of Light.
As a child, I was taught that gambling is a bad thing. At Diwali, though, gambling is ‘tradition’. People have tremendous fun trying their luck at this time, at friendly gambling parties organised for the occasion.
Growing up in India, the uncles and aunties in my parents’ social circle did indulge in this naughty tradition but kept face by substituting money with something less evil – matchsticks. We kids were sent to buy wholesale amounts of matchboxes, causing the tapriwaalas (shopkeepers) to probably think “Hmm, that’s a lot of smokers that don’t keep lighters”.
Back then, I didn’t even understand the game properly; I just sat down and did as I was told – adding matchsticks to the pile. Of course, I thought I was given a great responsibility – counting the number of matchsticks. In the end, the person with the biggest pile of matchsticks treated everyone to ice-cream, so winning was practically like losing… fun times.
I would bring out the best of all my traditional outfits to impress the gods with my taste in fashion; I would select the dangliest earrings to stretch my ears to be able to listen to my Ajji’s chore instructions; I would wing my eyeliner to impress in the photos that would be uploaded to group chats; finally, I would wear long-lasting lipstick so I could stuff myself with Deepavali sweets and snacks without worrying about re-application.
The Laxmi Puja day of Deepavali was one day that boggled my mind. “Amma, why are we wearing fancy clothes if we are just staying at home?” I’d ask my mum. She would reply with some diplomatic answer like “It’s okay if for one day other people don’t get to see your beautiful clothes. This is for family and for god”. Obviously, I get it now, the charm and wholesomeness that you share with your closest family members when you dress up to sit in your living room.
READ ALSO: Top Ten Festivals of Light
Growing up, the only time I’d be excited to get up early in the morning, was during Deepavali. All because I was entrusted with the major responsibility of making rangoli in front of the house.
(Rangoli is essentially the first impression people have of the level of festivity in your family.)
“What masterpiece will I produce today?” I would ask myself, eyeing from the corner of my eye the aunty next door stepping out to make her rangoli. She’d start by making a flower mandala. I’d go a step further and make two mandalas. She’d be almost done with her design while I’d be meticulously working on my colour combinations. She’d add a finishing flourish by placing a lit diya in the centre of her rangoli, so of course, I’d loot my garden for flowers and shred their petals to my design, simply to go one up on her. (By now, you know I don’t take my rangoli lightly.) If your design lasted the whole day and no one stepped in it, you’d won. If your guests asked, “Who made the rangoli in the front?”, that was it, you’d made it – you’d be doing next year’s rangoli as well.
Don’t be shy, beta
Sometimes I do regret being a nautanki in front of my parents, my degree in performing arts notwithstanding. Every single time guests came visiting during Diwali, my mum would go, “Why don’t you show uncle and aunty your performance from this year?” As I’d sit squirming, trying to resist, Dad would follow it up with “He’s so talented, audience toh puri khadi hoke taaliyan bajaa rahi thi!”
It was cute when I was 7, but even now? I’m almost 20 and I rarely step out of my room when guests are over, so when I do harmlessly waltz into the hall to socialise like a good beta, Mum never fails to embarrass me. How do I explain to her that I am an artist, not a puppet! I need ambience, yaar, I can’t just start dancing at the parents’ whim. Thankfully, this COVID Diwali, at least my dignity will remain intact.
At Diwali every year, my father invites the henna aunties to come and apply mehendi on the hands of all our family members and friends, and every year, I am disappointed in them. They do the world’s most intricate design on my palm, and then stop at my wrist. WHY?? “Keep going,” I say to them, because I want my entire forearm covered in design, not just my palm. They reply tactfully, “We’ll finish with everyone else and then come back to you”. No, no, no, I scream internally, the mehendi will dry in two different stages and the shades won’t match. So, every year, I take matters into my own hands. You can see, later, a clear difference between the traditional designs and the henna jalebis I create on my forearm. It does bother me a little, but not as much as having the beautiful decorations end sadly at my wrist. This COVID Diwali, I’m worried about being responsible for my own designs. I miss you, henna aunties
Back in India, watching the fireworks while slightly tipsy from spiked sharbat was the bomb. All the conservative family members would be inside chatting, some uncles would stand in a circle in the parking lot smoking, teenagers would finally have a reason to talk to their crushes by wishing them “Happy Diwali”, and kids would run around engaging in fire hazards, it was a simpler time. You’d be people-watching, perhaps from the terrace of the building or your apartment balcony, and a warm feeling would overcome you. As someone who doesn’t properly fit into the adult category or the kids’ category, I would take myself and my friends to the theka, buy a quart of Old Monk and slyly add it to the sharbat. Watching the night sky with a glass full of poison while vibrant colours lit up the darkness, was a great feeling. Isn’t that what Diwali is all about? Driving away darkness and enjoying the maahaul (vibes)?
Buttering up all the elders during pooja for Diwali money is a skill. Statements like “Dadaji, what receding hairline? I’ve never seen such luscious hair,” and “Uncleji, where did you find that sherwani? Looking like just like Shahrukh in K3G”, will definitely get you across the $20 mark. Dads are usually harder to convince since they know you better and don’t fall for petty compliments. I usually reserve my grand trick for my old man, “You know what, Dad? This year I’m going to put my Diwali money in the bank and not spend any of it.” He falls for it every year. Another big challenge is Bhai Dooj. How to solve a problem like brothers? They are cheeky and always give you a measly $1 coin until Mum shouts at them and makes them pull out some more cash. Unfortunately, this year, because of COVID all my targets can rest easy and my Diwali nest egg will be empty.
I still reminisce about our first Diwali with Scooby. It was a big effort to salvage our festivities. He was only six months old but was the canine embodiment of a hurricane! Our house has two floors, so we were lucky enough to be able to move all the important stuff like lights, lamps, pooja items and our temple, upstairs, in the no-Scooby zone. All our personal things would take a back seat and Diwali prep would be prioritised. Important possessions would undoubtedly get misplaced. Opal cards, library cards, garage keys, all would need to be cancelled and re-ordered by the time the celebrations were over. However, as the years go by, sweet Scoobs gets more and more used to a Diwali household and respects our traditions and rituals as much as we do
To wish or not to wish
Every Diwali Mum and Dad rack their brains trying to come up with the perfect party guest list. You could say our parties are somewhat exclusive, we only invite about 50 of our closest friends and family. Unfortunate for you, like Santa Claus during Christmas, we too judge whether you’ve been good or bad throughout the year.
There are multiple things to consider that could prevent you from receiving a highly coveted invitation to the Ahuja Diwali soirée. If your family didn’t invite our family on at least 2 outings in the year; if you’ve had a spat with any of my parents’ friends and it hasn’t been resolved before November; if you didn’t compliment Mum’s hydrangeas when she posted them on her Instagram; and finally, if you’re someone who says “I’m not a political person”, forget about being invited. This COVID Diwali, it’s just going to be us and our neighbours the Patels, if Patel Aunty cedes her secret thepla recipe to Mum.
READ ALSO: Ideas for a COVIDSafe Diwali celebration
Usually, my partner and I reuse old Diwali decorations and visit the same store to buy all our sweets, but this year, the kids are a bit older so I figured it’s time for them to have a say too. When we entered the shopping centre, I naturally gravitated towards the sweetmeats, but my youngest had other ideas. She ran into the dollar store and grabbed the family pack of Tim Tams and said, “Daddy please?”. I tried to let her down gently by saying, “No darling, mummy won’t like that,” but she insisted “But
these are sweet too!”. Can’t beat that logic. Almost immediately, my older one picks out a skull-shaped candle and exclaims, “Halloween is funner than Diwali!”. “Not on my watch,” I told myself. And so, we waltzed out of there with bags of Tim Tams, Halloween-themed candles, and a fresh perspective. “Mummy will just have to make do,” I said to the kids, wondering if I would be able to say the same to her.
Woe is WhatsApp
Ah, what’s that in the air? It’s a whiff of the incoming festive forwards on WhatsApp. The superb stylings of baby graphic designers who incorporate cheesy text into a Diwali background are about to dominate your WhatsApp storage, just like last year. Prepare yourselves, people. Turn off auto-download, mute the fam group chat, and get ready to look at blurred previews of images and say “Thank you! Same to you!”.
Please know, WhatsApp forwarders, that my generation considers your messages as the worst, simply because they are impersonal.
On the other hand, if you really think about it, the people who send these forwards, they’re actually thinking of you during this busy time. So, ultimately, it is personal. In fact, it’s a kind act that spreads good vibes via a simple message. So, even if it makes you cringe, it means that this COVID Diwali, you’re a little less alone.
READ ALSO: Ideas for a COVID-safe Diwali celebration