Monday, October 24, 2005


I always miss Diwali around this time of the year. The transitions in the weather and the arrival of the cold always signal unique feelings and thoughts in us, that remind us of special times at home. I really missed Diwali the last two years, and for some reason, I am missing it even more this year. In fact, I am missing it so much that sometimes I get the illusion that my PhD. advisor is in a 'Diwali mood' and the atmosphere in my department is a 'Diwali atmosphere'! I am not much of a 'festivous' guy, but still, the little things that matter do keep on coming to mind and heart: the new clothes (ok...the new 'cloth'...I would rather spend that money on books!), the firecrackers of course, the sweets and the faral, the lazing around in the afternoons and evenings, the efforts to painfully listen to the dialogues in those Diwali TV shows amidst the noise made by the brats playing outside, and the foray to my mama's place on the last day, to participate in eating a windfall of sweets, and to burst a windfall of firecrackers.

The firecrackers, especially, were always special. We always used to get up as early as possible, mainly in an effort to one-up an intrepid old woman living in the flat opposite to ours, who used to be fanatically intent on bursting the first firecracker at something like 4 a.m. in 'honour' of her little grandson. Needless to say, she always used to beat us to it. The anars (fire fountains?), the bhuichakras (fire wheels...ah, yes!), the rockets (rockets..) and 'atom bombs' (ha!) and 'lakshmi bars' (simply explosive sticks which for some reason became inseparably associated with the photo of goddess lakshmi on them), all had a unique 'explosive' personality of their own. The most memorable incidents (although callous and irresponsible- thank god we were immature at that age!) involved tying lit agarbattis to 'atom bombs' or 'lakshmi bars', thereby converting them to 'time bombs', and leaving them outside the closed front doors of neighbours. They never figured out exactly who did it, and we never stayed around to watch their faces of course. Another exciting memory is of surreptitiously running to the huge water tanks on the tekdi very early in the morning, and firing 'rockets' there; shimmering trails of light and swoosh in the midst of the dawn silence. Do you know about this, mom??...Never mind.
Then of course there were the perpetual dangerous experiments of trying to do the same thing within the crowded boundaries of our society. More than once a 'rocket' went into a neighbour's balcony, and more than once my parents had to censor our rocket launching exercises...temporarily of course. As a very small kid, my sister used to light fulbajya (fire sticks) outside while I was having my bath. The bath always used to be associated with some special soap specially opened for Diwali- for some reason, it was inevitably Pears or some Chandan soap.
The firecrackers turned into amateur chemistry experiments over time. My favourite was lighting 'gunpowder' with a mixture of potassium permanganate and glycerin, which was a potent and highly exothermic reaction. The sparks flew ample and bright, both then, and later from the scolding that my parents gave me. But all this was part of the fun, and my parents always allowed me to perform much more dangerous experiments than prudence would permit. I was never really in the Diwali fort making business, but I used to enjoy those built by other kids, and used to plant seeds on them and watch them grow, and also used to love making secret tunnels that would unexpectedly lead from one part of the fort to another.

In the evening, our society used to be lit with bright lanterns (kandil), a sight unique and heartwartming, seen only once every year. Since it was a relatively small society, one could take in the sight of the whole society standing at the main entrance. The selection of lanterns at the store was an adventure of its own. Holding each one to the light, imagining how it would look, and thinking of which one would be the best one in the whole society; all were tasks that we looked forward to.

Then of course, there are the sweets. I am not a very big fan of faral, but still I could never stop eating especially the karanjis, and the pohyacha chiwda specially made for the occasion. These then inadvertently spilled over into non-Diwali days of the year too. And of course, whatever the occasion and time of the year, I used to just wait for an excuse to ask my aai to make shrikhand, something that I can exclusively survive on and which I consider literally the food of the gods. What better excuse than Diwali to indulge yourself! The sweets filled the jars, the bright lantern light seeped through the windows, and the minds, thoroughly enjoying a break from school, reveled in unique and unadulterated joy.

Those memories are strong, and bind us to a time and place that does not exist anymore, and yet one which is much more real in a way than the present. There is nothing like that here. The 'Diwali' celebrated by the Indian Students Associations and the Maharashtra Mandals may be nice in its own way, but it is but an imitation of the happenings at home, conjured up to make the heart feel content. However, most importantly, even though the time and place are gone, their place in our heart always endures, and it always will. I will always miss Diwali...


Anonymous Siddharth Rege said...

Great article Ashutosh. Thanks for opening the memory flood gates. I love the sentence, where you said that even though those times no longer exist, to me they seem even more real that the current day to day life.
My favorite memory pertains to lighting and watching firecrackers from the terrace of our building. In the old days, (before kondhwa became filled with concrete jungles) one could see almost all of pune from our terrace as it was pretty high up on the salunke vihar tekdi. Seeing the beautiful firecrackers which create the multi colored patterns high up in the sky was fantastic. Infact seeing the nightsky of pune light up with hundreds of those colorful patterns is one of the indelible images that are accessible to me every time I close my eyes and harken back.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Sneha said...

hey Ashutosh..u made me homesick..:(...Very nice writing I must say..miss diwalia lot!

10:05 AM  
Blogger Tripti Anil said...

Hi Ashutosh
Found this article while searching for Fort-making tradition. Nice!

5:39 AM  

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