Now that the last bomb has been burst and the final rocket fired, one can grumble about the festive season. Everyone starts going slightly mad at Ganpati time, and by the time Diwali arrives via Navratri and Dussehra, the celebratory madness is in full swing.
You can’t obviously have a peaceful Diwali, because noise is a hallmark of the festival. You feel really sorry for kids, old people and friends with asthma. Unless you are totally a loner, leaving town is not an option.
Hindus believe that the house should not be left dark and empty at Diwali time. So while other festivals see an exodus of people away from Mumbai, at this time of the year, most people stay put and budgets permitting, go shopping.
Diwali without grandmothers
So you can’t even nip down to the market for some fresh fruit, because the place is chockablock with frenzied people, buying everything in sight - even though there is a recession.
You can’t get your regular packet of bread at the provision store, because every inch of available space is taken up by boxes of sweets, chocolates and dry fruits.
And heck, what does one do with the mountains of mithai and other sinful edibles that land at your door? Neither the fridge not your appetite is large enough to store all of it. This year, merciful neighbours sent home-made namkeens. And were you glad to see that piled plate.
It also made you nostalgic for the time when everyone in the building used to dress up in their finery and wish one another with plates of home-cooked goodies, covered with grandma-crocheted doilies.
The fact of the matter is that Diwali without grandmothers is no Diwali at all— they knew all the rituals, the special foods to be cooked and the best gifts to be given.
Now everything is bought at stores. And that adds to the chaos on the streets, because more than the normal number of cars are out, and it’s peak-hour traffic at all times of the day.
Earlier there used to be Diwali cards sent and received, which was a far more pleasurable way of greeting people (and some good cause was supported too, even though trees were cut for the paper), than those smses that beep irritatingly through the day, some from people you don’t even know (how did they get your number?).
And then you have to spend half a day punching in greetings in return, till the skin of your thumb peels off (mine did!) For some, Diwali is the time to drink even more, gamble and overeat. So if there’s any piety left in the festival, it is lost.
And your conservationist heart quakes at the electricity wasted on the strings and strings of electric lights. It often wonders whatever happened to the oil lamps and kandeels, which were often made by giggling kids, who messed around with paper and glue.
You are slightly thrown off by the cheery question, “What are you doing for Diwali?” — because one is working as usual.. because the domestic help has vanished.. and because it is a festival to be celebrated with the clan, and your clan is scattered all over, connected only by phone and email.
Still, one thing remains constant over the years besides the baksheesh-seekers — there will be one nutcase in every neighbourhood who will take the trouble to wake up at 4 a m and burst a bomb, which will set the dogs in the lane barking and the birds starting an excited cackle.
As you wake up with a curse, you say a quick thank you prayer because you still have trees around for the birds to perch on. And so on, till Christmas and New Year.