How have DIWALI CELEBRATIONS changed for me over the years?
It is said, ‘You can take an Indian out of India, but you can’t take a few things Indian out of him’. Love for DIWALI, I believe is one such thing. I am yet to come across an Indian, whether in the country or abroad, who doesn’t love the festival with all his heart and doesn’t crave to be with his family and loved ones on this special day. A few other things that you can’t quintessentially take out of an Indian is his love for the spicy Indian curries, his habit of greeting the other with a ‘Namastey’ and maybe their love and obsession with their Bollywood stars. Who doesn’t love the Kapoors, the Khans, the Kumars and the Ranveer Singh’s along with his ever so gracious better half, Mrs. Padukone of the industry? Well, this makes for another blog story for another day, but coming back to Diwali, the festival certainly marks one of the most celebratory and joyous time periods of the year.
A lot of my friends who have been working and staying abroad feel the most homesick and distant during the Diwali celebrations in India. Not so much in case they are staying abroad with their families, but yes definitely a lot in case they are alone there, with their immediate families being in India. Such is the feel of brotherhood, love and warmth that this one single festival ensues. Irrespective of your religion, community or caste, it just brings everyone together, wishing good will and enjoying together in a celebratory mode. Even though, because of the vast population of Indians that live abroad now, the Indian communities there do get together and have Diwali parties and celebrations, yet that authentic flavor of celebrating it in your own country is definitely missing.
I have been one of the lucky many who have enjoyed Diwali Celebrations with their families all these years. Except for one year, when I had to be away from home for some work, I have always made sure to be at home with family on this special day. But I also do have to admit, that as years are passing by, the essence of this festival has been changing for me. A lot of you would agree that the way Diwali was celebrated earlier, has definitely undergone quite some change in the recent times, for everyone at large. However, on a personal front, I do feel that my emotion for Diwali and the way I go about the celebrations has certainly altered hugely in the last few years.
One of the major and the most drastic difference is the stress upon Green eco-friendly Diwali Celebrations, and very rightly so. It is actually startling to see the enormous levels of pollution that the capital city reaches to during these days, the last quarter of the year to be precise. And if we be adding more to this by bursting up so many crackers, just for some loud noise and the thrill, whom are we actually fooling. Though the numbers for the entire country aren’t really great either, but they are exceptionally distressing for Delhi. It might make some sense to mention here that the Air Quality Index of Delhi is generally Moderate (101-200) level between January to September, and then it drastically deteriorates to Very Poor (301-400), Severe (401-500) or Hazardous (500+) levels in three months between October to December, due to various factors with stubble burning and fire crackers burning during Diwali being the major contributors to this devastation.
The air quality in Delhi, the capital of India, according to a WHO survey of 1600 world cities, is the worst of any major city in the world. On the whole, the Air pollution in India is estimated to kill 1.5 million people every year; being the fifth largest killer in India. India has the world’s highest death rate from chronic respiratory diseases and asthma, according to the WHO. In Delhi, poor quality air irreversibly damages the lungs of 2.2 million or 50 percent of all children. And still we continue to make and burst crackers! How pathetic is that
In simpler terms, one can actually feel the harm the population levels aggravated due to bursting crackers, does to the hair and skin, almost instantaneously. In fact, it is actually a pain to be breathing in the open air the very next morning post Diwali. It’s a huge effort on our respiratory system to be inhaling that hazardous air. And the cloud storm that builds in the entire atmosphere for an entire week or so post Diwali is testimony enough to how ill we are doing to our environment by bursting these crackers. Honestly, I used to be a huge fan of doing crackers on Diwali. In fact, I used to start off quite a few days before Diwali and had boxes and boxes full of crackers in my house to be burst on Diwali. For the first couple of years, when my family decided to refrain from this practice, I actually had a show down with them as they would just not let me buy crackers. But after that, I completely realized how ignorant I was and what a self- destructive activity I had been engaging in for all these years by bursting crackers. Its actually like burning up your hard-earned money and causing harm to you surroundings as well alongside. Lesson well learnt, and there has been a cracker free Diwali at my home for all these years since then
Diwali celebrations to me was also a lot about gifting earlier. I used to love visiting all my relatives and friends and personally wishing them a happy Diwali and handing over a beautifully wrapped up gift. It would be likewise from their end as well. And it used to be quite exciting to open up the gifts and see what is inside.
However, over a period of time, the whole process became quite mundane. Yes, the fact that I am calling it a process here goes on to show how mechanical, predictable and consuming it had all become. There was no surprise element left to the gifts as there was no personal touch and it was more of an arduous formality to pick up a lot of similar gifts and go about distributing them to all the people.
Mostly some crockery, glass showpiece and a box of chocolates, juices or dry fruits. (Comment below if you have ever received anything else apart from this, because I would surely be amazed to death.) Hence, I decided to get done with this formality. So now, more than gifting, it is about getting together, making merry, having a good time and genuinely gifting some warm wishes, affection and love to the people we care and love and call family and friends. Hence, we organize parties, where we all get together under one roof, (rather than getting stuck in traffic and individually going to each one’s place to handover the gift just to be informed by their house help that they too have gone to distribute the gifts.); dressed up in our fineries, eat good food, play, engage in banter, laugh, dance and wish each other a very Happy Diwali.
It is actually a lot more fun now.
Another conscious change that I have brought about in my Diwali celebrations is the decoration of the home. There used to be a lot of lights around the house earlier as well, but it was all outsourced. As in, we would hire people and they would put up lights and decorate the house. But now, since last couple of years, I have taken up the task upon myself. We don’t hire people anymore. I, along with my brother, go about putting the lights around the house ourselves. Also, we have started using a lot of diyas for the decoration purpose as I do realize the massive earning opportunity it creates for the people during these days. Honestly, rather than wasting money on crackers (and we all know the levels who exploitation meted out to the poor children in the making of these crackers in the factories in Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Assam, Chhattisgarh), we should ideally be lightening a lot of diyas, that helps women and children as well make some good money, in a clean and safe working environment.
The major source of my happiness and celebration of the festival comes from the decoration of the house. Isn’t that the essence of celebrating Diwali in the first place. I religious believe that to attract Goddess Lakshmi to your house on this particular day, you must definitely decorate the house with all your heart and effort. Believing the old stories, I do feel she come and showers her blessings on the most well decorated house in the vicinity. So, I do spend all my time on Diwali in decorating the house. There is a beautiful Rangoli made at the entrance (not outsourced again) and every corner of the house is lit up with diyas, candles, and a lot of fancy lights. Lots of Genda Phool, rose petals, leaves and colors are also used (how much I love to see the trademark flower of the festival all around, Genda Phool).
Another major change that I have consciously brought around is the choice of sweets that we consume during the festivities. We have drastically reduced the intake of aerated drinks as they cause a lot of harm and insist on having and serving fresh juice, iced teas, and even coconut water to the guests. Even for the sweets, we have switched to some healthier variations with much lesser sugar and more use of healthier ingredients like fruits, seeds and dry fruits. In fact, I have also been recently suggested by a friend to go in for a few home made sweets with customized and innovative use of ingredients like maybe different fresh fruits or syrups. This would actually make for a very sweet gesture to your guests and also add a personal touch of hospitality to greeting Diwali to those coming to your place. Also, it really never hurts to impress people with some of your skills and leave a lasting impression !
Through all of these changes, the underlying emotion for the festival remains the same, rather it has become stronger. Diwali still happens to be one of my most favorite festival, just the way of celebrating it has changed over the years. There are different things that give me happiness now than before. The focus has shifted from outward celebrations to finding inner peace, calm and happiness. It is no more about the superficial pomp and show and just going about the rituals, it is more about consolidating and reinforcing the feeling of togetherness and love and support for the near and dear ones and enjoying the festivities through the smallest of activities done together.
A few things that have remained unchanged though is my love for decking up in a new traditional Indian outfit and jewelry for the day, the card parties that start over a month before. How much I love those parties, playing cards with family and friends and sharing joys, laughter, fun and frolic while engaging in some good food and winning and losing money through the nights.
All in all, I immensely love the spirit of this festival as do almost each and every one of us Indians. Let’s just be a little mindful of the way we celebrate it and make an effort not to harm any person or our environment in our way of going around with our own celebrations.
HAPPY DIWALI !