Any 2nd,3rd,4th standard kid would write “Diwali is the festival of lights. It is the celebration of good versus evil. It is celebrated by wearing new clothes and exchanging sweets with relatives and bursting crackers”.
And for us, Diwali was just the new clothes and crackers. In Calcutta, till ’92, when we lived in Bhaktiarshah road, we would wake up early morning, for the Ganga Snanam. Amma would then call out to Radhika Aunty across the road, and ask that question : “Ganga Snanam aacha”. At 6, we will go to Vichcha Thatha’s house (he was thatha’s cousin) and wish them Diwali and have breakfast there. Later, when we moved to Vishal, it would be the ganga-snanam, followed by watching Kannukudi Vyadinathan play the violin on Sun TV, and then hot idlis for breakfast, and then spending time chatting up before going to Vichcha Thatha’s house.
The highlight was, quite unsurprisingly, the evening, the cracker time.
Growing up, as kids, we never understood the charm of visiting relatives and exchanging sweets line that we never failed to forget to write in the exams.
That was to change with ’98 Diwali.
As with everything appa, it would be a surprise. He comes back from office in the evening one day, and proposes a visit to Madras for Diwali ( something, that surprisingly, we had never done, the whole time we had been in Calcutta, around 15 years then). Vids and I, obviously supported the idea. Amma, was being practical, and thought about the expenses and the tickets and all such things, that never bothers us kids.
But as with everything appa, he had made his mind. The next day, he got the tickets (both ways) on the Diwali Special Train to Madras.
And, there it was, out of the blue, a Diwali with relatives.
But the excitement began a whole long time earlier. There was Tatha, Patti, Seetha patti, Ambi Thahta, Chitti, Chittappa, Periappa, Perima, Bharath, Lakshmi, Vivek, Athai Patti, Ramu mama, Visalam Mami, Delhi Patta aka Thathi, and Vinitha in Madras. And, we were getting new dress for each one of them. All this means, huge doses of Shopping. And, it was ultimate fun.
Train journey in October is loads of fun. And, that time, I always liked spending time in the train, and secretly wished that the train got late, so that I could enjoy more time in the train. As a sign of the perfectness of the visit, the train got 6 hours late, and pulled into Madras Central at 1 AM in the morning. Periappa was waiting for us, and I got to see a cell-phone for the first time.
We had reached, probably a couple of days before Diwali, and the next day, was spent planning for the day. Mama came one of those days, and took us to TNagar, to get us new dresses. The day before, we went to Koyambedu market to get vegetables and stuff for the Diwali feast. Later in the evening, Appa took us to the Cracker shop for buying the crackers.
Appa generally has a budget for crackers. Every year the prices increase, but the budget does not increase proportionally. In ’98 however, it seemed he had infinite pockets. I would have never imagined that he would get us that many crackers. That, he was definitely in a different mood altogether was when he got us Rockets, something that he steadfastly refused to get us for the past so many years.
In the evening, we presented the new clothes to everyone. Kept it before GOD, and amma and chitti and patti, put small dots of haldi and kumkum on the clothes. And we went to sleep excited beyond words can describe.
Next morning, after the bath, Thatha and Patti gave their blessings and the new clothes, which we wore and promptly went to the terrace for the cracker session. This was the first time we were bursting crackers at the crack of dawn.
The highlight of the cracker bursting session was Appa and Chittappa, fighting like kids on the best way to send a rocket skywards. After procuring, a bottle from downstairs, there was a heated discussion, on the exact angle at which the rocket has to be placed inside the bottle, to attain maximum elevation. That fight, is a standing joke even now, and we never fail to laugh out loud, whenever the Diwali of ’98 and that fight is discussed.
Later, we went to Justice Sundaram road, to Periappa’s house for breakfast and lunch. Some more crackers were burst then. The Diwali bhakshanam was devoured. Appa, Thatha and Chittappa and Periappa got to watching TV, reading papers and discussing stuff. Amma, and the ladies got working on preparing the feast, and us cousins, got to playing cricket and other games.
Later, after the sumptuous meal, we had a photo session and then we went to greet Athai patti.
The whole day was magical, and special. Although, the sequence of events were the same as every other Diwali, we had discovered the “magical ingredient”, the essence of the festival. Of being together with the family. Of sharing jokes sitting together eating. . Of Thatha’s stories and Appa and Chittappas effort to better each others joke. Of sharing Calcutta school stories in exchange of Madras school stories.
Of the whole three generations in the family, being at the same place.
And the other thing magical thing was forgetting life, suspending reality for day. Things were not real happy in Madras. There were some family troubles brewing and tensions raising all year in Madras. But for that one day, everything was forgotten, happiness was summoned and Good times were ordered.
And, that, to me is the magic of festivals. Family. Food. Happiness (even if for just a day).
The answer that we wrote in 4th standard was now complete.
Later, in the evening, we went to Nanganallur to Ramu Mama’s home. Mami had prepared pulav and other such delicacies. Mama, had gotten an amazing array of fancy crackers, that light up the sky, and the 10000 wallah, that continues and continues for half an hour.
It was the perfect evening to finish of the perfect day.
As it everything perfect, it stays, for a long time as an ideal. Something, that gets increasingly hard to achieve. Thatha passed away in ’99, and patti was bed-ridden since then. Seetha Patti and Ambi Thatha moved to Mysore. I was stuck in Engineering College in Bangalore, and then when Appa, Amma were in Bombay, Vidya was stuck in Chennai, and now I am stuck in a place that does not even celebrate Diwali. And, the perfect Diwali has never been repeated.
But the memory serves the festival’s purpose, as I sit here in Madison, after spending a fun evening with friends, and the great food that Janani’s mom made.
The memories, bring back the happiness and the promise of hope of future special Diwali’s to come.
Wish you all a Fantabulous and happy and safe DIWALI.
With Thatha, Patti and Cousins on the Perfect Diwali