No Diwali!4 mins 407 4 mins 407
“Daddy, I want fireworks for Diwali”
“Diwali? Fireworks? No, Bharath, we don’t celebrate Diwali”
“But Umang, Abhishek and Paras – they all do!”
I sighed. How could I explain to him that Malayalis in Calicut don’t celebrate Diwali?
For us, Diwali is just a red number on the calendar, a yearly holiday. We have Onam and Vishu which no else in the country celebrate, and Christmas and Eid, which we celebrate with the rest of India. However, Diwali is only for the Gujaratis, Marwaris, Sindhis, Kannadigas, Tamils, Andhras, Biharis, Kashmiris and everyone else who have made this place their home since long before Independence.
In over forty years in Calicut, Diwali for me has been a day for an occasional invite to a Sindhi friend’s home for lunch, boxes of sweets sent over by Marwari clients and sporadic bursts of firecrackers on the far horizon.
The next day’s newspapers carry photographs of Gujarati belles swaying away at the garbadance at their exclusive temple some place near the Beach Road. I have never seen the place, just like very few people outside that community have.
On the fortunate days when I have been outside the State during Diwali, I have been amazed at the fervor with which it is celebrated, the joy and gaiety of the affair. Even my friends residing elsewhere get into the Diwali spirit with abandon and having forgotten its insignificance in Calicut, are amazed when they call to wish me on the occasion and find I am in the office.
Mabye Kerala is the only State in India that does not celebrate Diwali very much. Our crackers are confined to the Vishu season, our sweets for Onam. I wonder why.
So I tried to tell Bharath that his friends were from other communities who had this festival while we did not. I was stumped when he asked with all the gravity of his eight years “Why, aren’t we Indians too?”
That did it. I had to get him fireworks for Diwali.
The next question was how to go about it. Some years ago during Vishu, a huge blast (reasons still unclear) had ripped apart S.M. Street, the place where fireworks from Sivakasi were stocked and sold since God knows when, killing many people and destroying most of the tightly-packed shops. An area near the Byepass Road, far from town, has been demarcated for their sale during the season. But getting fireworks over the counter during Diwali is virtually impossible, they have to be ordered well in advance.
But I couldn’t let Bharath down, could I?
I managed to get some through the efforts of a close friend, who arranged with a stockist to get me a special delivery. When, son in tow, I went to the outlet to pick it up, I gulped when I saw the size of the parcel. This was going to cost me a fortune! But seeing the elation on Bharath’s face, I could do nothing else but ask what it cost. To my surprise, the shop owner refused any attempt at payment, saying that my friend had instructed him specifically that this was a gift to a child for Diwali. Bless him.
Bharath was in Seventh Heaven all the way back home. To make things more authentic, my sister had come home with clay diyas, with which we lit up all the walls of our home. The house itself, bathed in their warm glow, seemed pleasantly surprised. Over the years, it has witnessed flower carpets for Onam and stars for Christmas, but this was a first.
The news of Bharath’s vast treasure trove having spread fast and wide, kids from the neighbourhood had gathered to watch the grand spectacle. My wife and mother had ensured an adequate supply of sweets to cater to the gigantic appetites of the undersized horde.
Since none of the children were big or courageous enough to light the crackers, that task was entrusted to Yours Truly. And you know what? I don’t think I have ever had so much fun in recent times. I felt like a boy again.
The eager anticipation of something momentous going to happen when a cracker’s fuse is lit and begins to fizzle, the magic circles spun by the fire spiders, the flower pots shooting golden rain into the skies, the look of enchantment on the faces of Bharath and his pals, as they gazed, sparklers in hand, at the wonder of it all – what more could one want?
The spirit of Diwali had entered our home, in all its glory.
Best of all, I had given the boy a Diwali to remember.
Make that one for myself too.