Seven interesting people – celebrities from the worlds of music, film, fashion, books, sports and food – tell us what keeps the festive spirit twinkling in their hearts and wardrobes.
“When friends would come over for a small Diwali party at our house, my parents would force me to play the piano. My go-to song was Phantom of the Opera”
As a child growing up in the US, my mother used to make us clean everything before Diwali. She would say, “Laxmi won’t provide anything if you don’t clean up.” I remember loving how the house felt afterwards. But my favourite part was perhaps putting up the plastic lights and fake candles and lighting everything up.
On Diwali day, our Indian friends would come over for a small party. Like most Indian parents who love showing off their kids’ talents to their friends, I too was forced to play the piano. My go-to song was Phantom of the Opera.
Diwali, when I was a kid, was epic. The last amazing Diwali that I had was when I was eight years old – before my parents split up.
When it comes to my style, people usually associate me with leather and stripes. But when it comes to Indian clothes, I’m not the most quirky. I love traditional Indian clothes, they’re beautiful. This is my first photo-shoot in traditional wear; I’m wearing a classic Indian lehenga choli by Anita Dongre, which I plan to wear this Diwali.
While growing up, it was like magic for me to see Indian women dressed in traditional attire that was classic-looking yet so very fashionable. I have a simple black sari with Kashmiri embroidery; I would like to wear it at one of the parties this Diwali. I like traditional silhouettes, but I hardly get the chance to wear them.
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If I were to throw a Diwali party, I would play Bollywood music from before 1995, which was really, really good. Classic Hindi songs are so much fun and you can sing along with them.
I was raised as a Hindu, my grandfather was a Brahmin. But now I believe in a higher power and not in any religion. I’ve found a guruji in California who really speaks to me. The more I learn about the way the festival occurs astrologically at this time and why we celebrate it, the more I believe in Diwali. There is something auspicious about the day and time. So now, I take it more seriously than I did before.
I try to create my own Diwali traditions, and I celebrate it in a way that works for me.
“One Diwali, I got this amazing idea that if I held a lit chakri on my finger, it would be exactly like Vishnu’s chakra”
I grew up in a Sikh household with a single mother in Delhi. My Diwalis were like anyone else’s… taash, burning your hands on patakas, a little less fun than Holi but kind of more beautiful and meaningful.
As a kid, I used to watch a lot of dhaarmik movies and serials and people used to call me the bhakt. Shiva was my hero but I watched films about Krishna, Vishnu and all the other Gods.
One Diwali, I got this amazing idea that if I held the chakri on my finger, it would be exactly like Vishnu’s chakra. But the moment I lit the chakri, it started to burn my fingers and I panicked. I couldn’t get the thing off. We had this Tamilian servant who was an alcoholic but fortunately, at that particular moment, he was sober. He managed to get it off, but I had already burned three of my fingers quite badly. So I had to be rushed to the doctor.
Another memorable Diwali was with the writer VS Naipaul, a couple of years ago. He hadn’t celebrated Diwali for almost 40 years. So when he was in India, we had a few people over and did a puja. He was really moved, it was very exciting for him.
I like wearing simple, subdued clothes. For Diwali, it would usually be a kurta-pyjama, maybe a light shawl if it’s a bit chilly. If I’m feeling too adventurous, I would go for an achkan. I got the one I’m wearing tailored in Lahore; we have a haveli there where my grandfather grew up. The buttons on the achkan have been handed down from my aunt.
“I remember hundreds of people coming home to get my father’s blessings. There were many ceremonies then, which have now been abolished”
My father was the MLA of Luni in Rajasthan. Back then, politicians were not unreachable, and there used to be a lot of connect with the villagers. I remember hundreds of people coming over during festivals to seek my father’s blessings and also to discuss their issues.
There were many different ceremonies then, which have now been abolished. I remember sitting in my dad’s lap and watching one such ceremony that used to take place three days before Diwali. People would come forward and have prasad from my father’s hand by touching their lips to his palm. It signified closeness and a strong bond between two people. It was a great way of connecting with a large population of people.
I grew up in a big household with a lot of staff and their children. Diwali was always an occasion for all the children to get together and burst crackers.
The mornings, during the festival, would start with a puja and rhythmic chants by several pandits; a wave of spiritual recitals would reverberate throughout the house. Then of course, there would be a party at night. Diwali was always a good way of reaching out to the most distant cousins and uniting the extended family, including members of the staff.
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When I went off to boarding school, Diwali became an altogether different affair. There was nothing light and festive about Diwali there; residence houses would fight each other with rockets and crackers. It was sort of dangerous, to be truthful.
I have seen a shift in the essence of Diwali in the last four decades. Growing up, it was a modest affair. It was spiritual and regal, there was a code of conduct. Now it’s more about the firecrackers, the dressing up, the parties. I see it as a reflection of our changing times. I, for one, like to dress down – on regular days and even during festivals. I like subtle colours; this rich wine-coloured velvet bandhgala that I’m wearing is perhaps the farthest I’ll go.
Diwali is one of the most important occasions for the fashion industry. We make a lot of custom-made gold coins and limited edition products for various companies.
It’s not only about fashion and clothing, it’s also about meticulously creating special hampers that people can gift. Great partnerships take place with many brands during this time. It all culminates into a fantastic year, because it’s not just about one festive day but the entire festive season.
“My parents and friends love playing cards, but I’m terrible at it. I usually lose, which is why I don’t play much”
I started playing chess when I was seven years old and I won my first international title at nine. So I have spent most of my childhood and many of my Diwalis away from home, travelling to tournaments.
Every Diwali that I get to spend at home is special; the entire city is in such a festive mood, everyone’s happy, there’re a lot of good vibes around, so many parties to attend and so much food.
If I’m in Delhi, I always take time off from playing chess for a few days during Diwali. In the past when I’ve been home I’ve never practised on those days, and I haven’t felt guilty about it at all.
My parents and friends really like playing cards, but I’m terrible at it. I don’t play much but I enjoy watching everyone else play because there’s so much energy in winning and losing. I usually lose, which is probably why I don’t play much. I love to win!
When you’re abroad, unless you’re in a cosmopolitan city like London, most people don’t know about Diwali and there isn’t much to do then. I always hope that I have good games on such days so I’m in a good mood. When that happens, I usually dress up a bit and go out for a nice dinner. If I find a temple or a gurudwara, I go and pray there.
I love wearing saris and salwar kurtas. Generally, I wear a pair of jeans and a top, and during matches, I wear formals. So every opportunity I get to dress up in something pretty and Indian, I jump right in. But I have absolutely no eye for Indian clothes, so I leave it all to my mother. She is a designer and has a great eye for Indian wear.
This Diwali I’ll wear this white chikan kurta designed by her and a friend of hers. My mom also picked up this yellow phulkari dupatta from Chandigarh that goes so well with many different outfits. White and gold is my favourite combination.
I usually carry an Indian outfit when I’m travelling abroad for a match. And everyone is so awed by it, especially if it’s a sari. All my chess friends want to own a sari; every time I go abroad I take saris for my friends there.
I am a complete foodie.Whenever I travel, I love experiencing new food. I am not a fan of Indian mithai, but rasmalai and gulab jamuns are my all-time favourites. Festival food is always yum and it’s amazing to go to people’s homes during Diwali as there’s always a feast laid out everywhere you go.
“Diwali is a great excuse to dress up in traditional clothes and look festive”
I have grown up only partly in Delhi; my dad was in the army, so we stayed all over India. I’m Sikh by religion but in the army we celebrated all the festivals of various religions. Now, for the last 15 years, I’ve been based in Kolkata after marriage. Durga Pujo is bigger than Diwali there, but for us north Indians, the whole build-up to Diwali is still very exciting.
The day itself is special because my in-laws are Hindus and we do a series of three pujas. We begin with one in the early evening at our showroom and factory. All our employees and their families participate in the puja, prasad and a cracker-bursting ceremony. Then we do a puja at my in-laws’ house and the last one is at my house. It’s very exhausting but a lot of fun too.
Afterwards, we usually go to a Diwali party at a family friend’s place. Theirs is one of the biggest Diwali parties in Kolkata; and they have an old tradition of making their own crackers at home – they get big pots for anaars and make the masala on their own. There’s also an elaborate ceremony where the anaars are all lit up together, they go up almost two stories high and last forever! My children love it.
I think what I enjoy most about Diwali is dressing up. It’s a great excuse to wear traditional clothes and look festive. In our daily lives, we are always so busy running around that we end up wearing anything quick and casual. But to actually spare the time and make the effort to dress up in Indian finery is what I like best about Diwali.
When I think Indian, I think saris. I love wearing saris. It’s such an unbelievable piece of cloth, it all depends on how you drape it and how you carry it off. It’s the closest to an evening gown you can get.
This sari that I’m wearing is from my new Spring/Summer 2015 collection called Sunset Dreams. It’s pure Chantilly lace, I haven’t touched the fabric at all, although I could’ve done some embellishments on it. What I wanted to do was create some luxury around it, so, instead of a petticoat, I paired the sari with a beautiful silk woven skirt with satin lining. The blouse is also made from the same silk with satin lining. It’s a very elegant outfit and perfect for this Diwali, as lace is big this season.
“I associate Diwali with my mom’s food – especially the tomato chutney she used to make”
Her food was something we looked forward to, excitedly, every single Diwali – puri aloo, tomato chutney, sooji ka halwa and of course, the house favourite – apple crumble.
We are a very large family, and we would celebrate Diwali together. I still celebrate it the same way like I used to as a kid. My mom is unfortunately no more. Now we have a family get-together, usually in Delhi.
This year is going to be special because we are opening a new restaurant in Khan Market during Diwali. A unique quality about our country is that whether it’s food or fashion, brands have to adapt to be a success.
I’m wearing a kurta made by Lacoste which is a brand popular for its T-shirts. But they came up with a range of kurtas with the same material for India. I love them. They are perfect as traditional wear.
When I went back to Delhi, I realised that the festival is much bigger there than in Bombay. People play cards, party for many nights in a way they don’t do in Bombay. Perhaps it’s like that all over north India, but Delhites really know how to celebrate Diwali.
People have the best time this time of the year. It’s like Christmas.
(As told to Junisha Dama)
“We value our Chinese traditions, but we also believe in puja, Vaastu and havan. The mode of celebration may change, but the purpose remains the same”
I am Chinese, born to descendants who arrived in India from central China’s Hubei province way back in the 18th century, and I grew up in Dhanbad (Jharkhand). Inevitably, Indian influences have seeped into our traditions. We value our Chinese rituals, but we also believe in puja, Vaastu and havan. My parents light diyas and do puja at home during Diwali. We also burn small papers, painted with silver and gold circles, that symbolise money, as fire is holy in Chinese culture as well.
I, however, have never spent Diwali at home. I was always away at boarding school, first in Dehradun and then in Mussoorie. At school, we were given very few firecrackers, mostly phooljharis, anaars and chakris, so we wouldn’t create too much pollution. As kids we obviously didn’t like that much, but in retrospect, that helped develop a good habit.
Diwali in a boarding school was a very big deal. We were 400 boys and we usually celebrated the festival with the neighbouring school. There would be a special dinner, sort of like a Diwali bonus, which was much better than the food we got on other days. The next day we would have to march on the field cleaning the mess that we created the night before, lighting the crackers.
Now I hardly get time to celebrate Diwali. But if I do, then I celebrate it with friends as I stay away from home in Mumbai. We wear traditional Indian clothes, go out or attend a Diwali party. And, because we haven’t really explored any temple or place of worship here, we always end up going to the Mount Mary Church in Bandra and lighting a candle there.
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I usually dress casual but when I have to be dressy, I mix and match. I love ethnic wear – kurta and pyjama in particular. It’s nice to wear something colourful and traditional for Diwali as it’s the festival of lights and everything is so bright.
I would really like to go abroad for Diwali once, to see how it’s celebrated among the Indian diaspora. Maybe Times Square in New York; it’s such a lively place, I guess it would be fun during the festival as they have many Diwali parties there.
(As told to Junisha Dama)
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From HT Brunch,October 19
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