Another Deepavali gone by and we are almost nearing the end of year 2011. Who would have thought that Osama bin Laden and Gaddafi would both meet their ends? To my mind the significance of Deepavali – the ultimate victory of good over evil – has been achieved by the end of these two who unleashed terror among their fellow men. Another war against corruption is on. I wonder if it is as easy for society to fight corruption that has so many shades to it. But of course it should not stop one from making an effort. Every small step would be a move forward and each step matters. Let this Deepavali awaken the desire to fight against social evils.The mythological character Ravan with 10 heads symbolizes the evils in society that need to be conquered. And what better occasion than Deepavali to resolveto do our bit to achieve it?
Deepavali brings along with it memories of the past. 38 years ago we celebrated our ‘thalai Deepavali’ or the first Deepavali after our marriage. I was upset that we did not celebrate it at my maternal home as per tradition, but considering the expense involved I could not do much. Mymother in law hinted that we could go provided my mother took care of our traveling expenses. I was determined that I would not encourage the practice even if it meant that I had to stay back. I felt that if I gave in, my mother may be expected to pay our train fare on every visit. My mother later advised me not to be harsh on my mother in law. It was difficult for a middle class family to shell out money for the trip soon after the wedding. Those were days when I had not understood my Mil for the person she was. If someone had told me at that point of time that I would learn to love and respect her and understand her point of view, I would have laughed at their face. But that is beside the point.
Coming to our ‘thalai’ Deepavali, my mother in law really made it memorable. She prepared all the sweets herself. A drum (capacity10 kgs) full of mixture or ‘chana chur’ as it is called here,101 boondi laddoos, apart from milk cake, namkins, burfee and what not. My father in law lit a mud hearth fuelled by fossil coal, fire wood, cow dung cakes etc on Deepavali day around 3:30 in the morning and water for the oil bath was heated in a huge aluminum pot that would hold 3 buckets of water.Sesame oil was warmed and a generous amount of pepper and turmeric was added to it. My sister in law made a beautiful rangoli at the door step and in front of the altar where pictures and idols of Gods were kept. New clothes were purchased for all members of the family and arranged in sets and placed in front of the altar. They were blessed with the application of kumkum in a corner. My mother in law applied oil on our heads and when each member had finished bathing she would hand out the new clothes meant for the person. We accepted the clothes after prostrating at her feet and wore them. She then made us prostrate at the puja altar and at my father in law’s feet to seek his blessings. Finally distribution of sweets began around 6 in the morning. Somewhere between the time we woke up and left home to distribute sweets, crackers would be burst. We were around 10 Tamilian families in the neighborhood and we’d burst crackers at dawn to make our presence felt.
The practice continued for several years as long as my father in law was alive and till date as far as practicable. The mud hearth was replaced by a heater and the aluminum pot replaced with a smaller steel one. Finally even that was abandoned when a geyser was installed in the bathroom. Sweets are prepared with the same enthusiasm but in lesser amount. The early morning oil bath has been replaced with shampoo bath after my father in law’s death. This morning I suddenly missed the aluminum pot and mud hearth. True, water gets heated in minutes so to say. But it is the involvement that has gone missing. My father in law would purchase fire wood and fossil coal after making sure that they were dry enough. He would chop thefire wood and break the coal into smaller pieces. All this went into preparations for Deepavali and would begin at least a week before. He would also watch out for the postman, night watchman, the sweeper all of whom would be given generous amounts of sweets. He would then ask us to pack sweets and savory for his senior citizen friends who would meet each evening in a neighboring park. The park is still there and I missed my father in law when I stood in my balcony this morning watching people practicing yoga or jogging in the park. My FIL did not have to exercise; he was active till the age of 75 and would fetch vegetables, grocery etc. He never took an auto and would walk to the local market and come back with a bagful in each hand.
I was a little upset about having to spend the day alone after having been exposed to a joint family set up earlier. But a phone call from my granddaughter cheered me.
“Amma, I had an oil bath. Mommyput mehandi (henna) in my hand on Sunday. I told my friends about Diwali. They hadn’t heard of it before. Mommy has made a lot of sweets and has packed somefor my friends too. Happy Diwali to you and tatha. We’re having a Diwali party on Sunday.”
Oil bath?? Distribution of sweets?I was touched. My daughters were trying to cling on to tradition – the way they had seen it being followed as children. And here I was complaining that childrendo not make sweets, they just buy them. True joint families of yester years are not feasible any more. But it is also my duty to be happy for them and accept the change that is part of an evolving social set up and bless them even if from a distance. I learnt a valuable lesson and I hope I always remember it.
A happy Diwali to all of you.