Most of the excitement lay in the preparation and the events leading up to the main occasion. Questions would be aplenty. Some questions would be answered, some not. As each day progressed, the excitement would mount, the air would fill with the fragrances of sugar, cloves, cardamom and saffron. The pans would sizzle with hot oil and goodies would appear from the pans, as though by magic. The buildup to Diwali, during my childhood days, used to be magical.
One could actually feel the festive air, so much so that the celebratory air was almost palpable. It was almost as if one could just reach out into thin air and touch that feeling of cheer and joy. It was everywhere. It surrounded things, it encapsulated feelings and encompassed one and all. People could be seen visibly caught up in the festive atmosphere as the cheer lay claim to minds – young and old alike.
One of the main highlights of Diwali during my childhood days used to be the Kandil. There was no string of lights then. It used to be a paper lantern which could be folded up once the Diwali festivities were over. Indian Origami at its best !! I remember waiting with bated breath for my dad to climb into the loft and take out the kandil. It would be taken out of the loft, safely encased in its plastic bag. Dust would still have managed to seep in through those layers of plastic onto the kandil. I would wait, ready with a cloth in hand, to restore the kandil to its pristine condition. Once the kandil – all nooks and crevices of it included – was dusted and fresh, my dad would climb up on a long stool and first attach the bulb holder to the nearest plug point. He would then attach the bulb to the holder the test it. Then came the piece de resistance – he would open the kandil and it would unfurl itself in a blizzard of colors. The strings tied, I would have the honor of switching on the light which would herald the beginning of the Diwali festivities.
It used to be the same kandil year after year. If I remember right, we used the same kandil for more than 9 years. But the beauty lay in the fact that no one ever tired of seeing the same kandil year after year. It was a star shaped kandil which used to twinkle rather merrily (or so I thought then) at its onlookers. Me and my friends used to walk around the building, taking note of the houses where the kandils had already been put up and wait impatiently for the other errant households (or so we thought then) to put up their kandils soon.
I distinctly remember the mouth watering aromas that would begin to filter and waft through home and fill the whole house with its fragrance – tantalizing the taste buds, teasing the olfactory senses, tempting and alluring those fingers into attempting a steal from the dishes before the whole dish even got done, tormenting those brain cells which would, by then, be firing away in a rather manic manner, knowing very well that a whole load of goodies lay in store.
Mom would be busy in the kitchen, her face all scrunched up in concentration so as to ensure the right consistency of the sugar syrup which would ensure absolutely delicious laddoos. Or she would be found stirring very systematically and analytically, that heavenly mixture of besan, sugar and ghee – which, under her careful ministration and nurture, would eventually turn into those wonderful “melt in the mouth” Mysore Pak. There would be the savories too. Those hands would twirl in merry abandon as they twisted and teased mounds of dough into crispy twirled murukkus. Those fingers would go “Pat a cake pat a cake bakers man” whilst flattening the spicy dough onto a piece of cloth, which would later ensure a whole dabba full of spicy thattais. A perfect complement to all those dabbas overflowing with sweets. The smell of rose essence would waft through the kitchen and find its way into my nostrils, thus signaling towards the fact that hot jalebis were imminent.
My mom, I’m sure, was blissfully unaware of the kind of provocation these culinary masterpieces evoked. It would send all five senses into a frenzy, the smells would cause a tumult while the almost palpable taste would drive one to the depths of despair until and unless one got a sampling of the goodies being made in the kitchen, right then and there.
I don’t remember a single Diwali day when the sky was not dark when I awoke. That customary ritual of an oil bath early in the morning would evoke none of the usual complaints from me as I would crane my neck as much as possible without twisting it into some weird angle, trying to peep at the new clothes which would be laid out in front of the prayer shelf. My dad would have a bucket of warm water ready in the bathroom for me to finish my oil bath. Maybe it was my imagination but that oil bath on Diwali day was like none other. It had that special something to it. Once the oil bath was done, my grandma would smear a little bit of turmeric powder onto the edges of my new Diwali clothes and with much elaboration and flourish, hand them to me.
New clothes donned, crackers in hand, I would rush out to meet my friends and from then on it would all be a flurry of sounds and colors. There were times when we would literally jump out of our skins when one of the cracker bombs went off but in no way would that dampen or hamper our little coterie of friends. By the end of it all, our hands would be smeared with gunpowder from the crackers and they would look as though we had been digging through a coal mine of sorts. Yet, it was all a part of that charm, that appeal and allure that the festival brought along with it. Diwali had its own charisma, it weaved its own magic and never failed to fascinate us kids, year after year after year after year. It was an enchantress of sorts, totally mesmerizing us kids and captivating us. In the very simplicity of the festival then, lay its appeal. In the very simplicity of the festival then, lay its pull, its attraction, its magnetism that drew one and all into a cosy embrace of love, oneness, friendship and camaraderie.
As I grew older, that penchant for crackers slowly gave way to the more sedate aspects of Diwali. Soaking the clay diyas in water a few days before Diwali and laying them out to dry would be the beginning. Then would begin a creative frenzy as I would paint the diyas with poster colors. Each one would have a pattern, a certain design to it. Very soon those colors and their tints and hues would spiral me out into a totally different world as those brushes produced miniature swirls and twirls on the diyas which would eddy my senses into a vortex filled with blues and greens and golds, bringing along with them a deep sense of satisfaction and contentment.
I remember those days when I would spread the earthy base onto the verandah at home. A square or a rectangle or a circle, as my imagination deemed fit right then. Onto it my fingers would automatically weave thin patterns with white rangoli powder. Once the basic design was done, would begin the absolutely delightful task of filling the rangoli colors in. It was an enchanting process, one that I hold very dear and close to my heart even today.
(Image Courtesy : shreeyoginfo.com via Google)
Asato Ma Sadgamayah
Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamayah
Mrutyor Ma Amrutamgamayah
So this Diwali, dear readers, as nostalgia takes me rolling down memory lanes, the entire nutty family at Tiny Tidbits wishes you and yours a very Happy, Peaceful, Prosperous Diwali filled with cheer, good health, love and happiness.