With three days to go for the festival of traffic jams, I’m writing this piece sitting in the car that hasn’t moved an inch in the past forty minutes. No, I don’t have a particularly weird liking towards sitting in parked cars, so yes, I’m caught in traffic. Everywhere I look around, I see haggard faces. There’s a guy on a scooter on my left, trying to balance gift packs big enough to raise the average per capita living standard of an entire colony. There is a shop selling crockery items on the right side of the road, where a salesman, who has clearly not slept for at least three days of selling cups and saucers, is trying desperately to field harassment from a woman who is aggressively bargaining for a cutlery set. Just to pass time, I have visions of the salesman hitting the woman with a pack of six spoons worth Rs 50 each and his photo being carried in newspapers tomorrow.
Lest you should think of me as a festival hater or a generally crotchety person, let me clarify that no one, and NO one loves festivals as much as I do. As a child, I used to mark the dates for Holi, Diwali etc on the calendar, right in the beginning of the year and drive mom crazy asking how many days are left. I still love the festivity in the air, whenever it’s possible to see or smell it, amid the pollution. What I don’t quite understand or enjoy is the rapid pace at which our festivals have grown bigger and busier. They are almost like a man who would spend evenings playing with his kids when he was not so rich and is now too busy to even talk to them when he’s grown rich and successful.
On this Diwali, therefore, I want to tell the China-made-but-still-prayed Ganesha in my house that I want my old festival back for these reasons…
1 I miss the joy of gifting: Not that I receive, or give, less number of gifts than I used to every Diwali, but the warmth seems to be diminishing faster than Virender Sehwag’s hairline. And the US has not even invented warmth-transplant as yet. I pity all those whose bosses assign them the ‘duty’ of distributing 200 Diwali gifts to clients and business associates, out of sheer obligation. They ring the bell, force a fake smile, hand over the gift packet that they would rather throw on your head, mark a tick in front of your name, and move on for the next destination on the other side of the universe. Not that their bosses can be blamed, because mostly the receivers expect a gift to come their way each Diwali, and maintain their own list of who all have obliged so far. It’s all fine as long as it suits both, but my point is that then it’s business, not festival. Even with relatives, it seems like a chore to battle nightmarish traffic and land up at the home of a mausi or chachi who you otherwise haven’t met the whole year, and who may just compare the value of your gift three seconds after you leave, to what she plans to give you. It’s more fun if she realises that, by mistake, you’ve given her what she gave you last year. You see, the true extent of how environment friendly we are can be truly seen only at Diwali when we recycle gifts. Here’s a suggestion. Why don’t extended families make it a rule to do a Diwali get-together from the money saved on fuel that would’ve been utilised in visiting ten different homes? Exchange gifts with twelve cousins at one place…rather than visiting their homes for four minutes each and shoving twelve cold drinks down your throat while you’re at it. Socho…socho.
2 I miss the joy of wishing: The youngsters of today may laugh at this but not too long ago, we had this thing called ‘greeting cards’ that were sent to everyone we wanted to wish. Flashback: We used to choose the most beautiful prints, spend time carefully writing the message inside each and the addresses on the envelope…and posted them well in advance, hoping they would beat the postal traffic. Cut to present. We have digital diyas created using the strokes on the keypad. Receive them as an SMS, forward it to the entire contact list on your mobile-phone, and woosh. In one stroke, you’ve wished Happy Diwali to your entire universe, including the dry-cleaner whose number you’d saved when he misplaced your favourite pair of trousers and you used to give him a threatening call at 6pm every day. I agree that technology has made it much easier and faster for us to reach out to each other. I still miss the joy of wishing. I don’t know why.
3 I miss the joy of celebrating: After fulfilling all the obligations of gifting and wishing, you get into the celebration mode when the D-day arrives. Then you see two neighbourhood kids arguing whose Chinese crackers are better and noisier. A third kid joins in and calls both of them ‘bad citizens’ because he has taken a ‘say no to crackers’ pledge at school. With their dads in mourning after having lost their Diwali bonus at the card party last night, their mothers come and drag them home, saying they could compete over whose Chinese lights look more decorative. One of them pulls out a sticker-rangoli and pastes it on the floor in flat four seconds, passing a winner look to everyone around. You mentally award her the trophy, and come inside to do the traditional pooja. Your Gods have got a makeover, with the age-old mitti ki moorti gone and 92.5 percent sterling silver plated Ganesha with Italian finish, all ready to bless you with prosperity. You pray, ask for some more prosperity and open the half-kg box of traditional sweet you’ve bought just for prasad. Because all other sweets at home are actually chocolates, some 70% dark cocoa. Pooja done, you leave to distribute your last installment of gifts, and grab a wet handkerchief to ward off the Chinese smoke in the air. I love the festival… can someone get me my Diwali back? Sonal Kalra doesn’t actually believe a word of what she wrote above. She’s just rambling after having sent 99 Diwali SMSs. Ignore her, hail China.
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The calmness trophy this week to Ravi Kesharwani, for showing that no one can beat our defence forces when it comes to blending calmness with a gutsy spirit. And the superbly creative Shivang Chopra for calmly weaving magic into words on this column’s facebook page.