Diwali, the Festival of Lights, evokes fond memories of childhood. It was not just a festive occasion to burst crackers but a tryst with a mosaic of mouthwatering goodies.
I vividly recall how I, as a rustic urchin in a tearing hurry, would run through the dimly-lit cobbled lanes and bylanes of the village bazaar, which would be abuzz with the Diwali eve din.
The village halwai, Sadhu Ram, attired in immaculate white, sporting a conical woollen Himachali cap, would do booming business. He would throw a big party for the enterprising staff when the sales exceeded Rs 3,000.
I remember how I had to haggle with my granny for a five-rupee note, then a princely sum. She would finally give in and hand out a crumpled Rs 5 note from her soiled hanky. She would tell me: “Look Ramesh, here is the Rs 5. You can buy 16 items of your choice for an anna. Fetch home half a seer of hot jalebi for your younger siblings on the way back, should you be left with money.”
I would head for the bazaar with a homemade thaila (bag) and a spring in my step. Taking the shortest route to the bazaar through a maze of terraced fields and leaping across hedges, I would thread my way through a crowd of mela- buffs and land at Sadhu Ram’s.
Like the village lambardar, I would run a random look at the assortment of sweets arranged in an incredibly meticulous order. I would tell the man holding the scales, “Bhai, eik rupay ke garam gulab jamun, dedh rupay ki mix-mithai aur eik rupay ki jalebi daal dena.”
He would quickly comply.
I would then turn to Madanji, the pokerfaced fireworks vendor. “Madanji,” I would tell him in clear terms: “Pichhle saal jo teen rupay ke patakhe le gaya tha bekar nikle, iss bar dhyan rakhna (The crackers that I bought last year were not good. Do take care this time).” He would compensate me with half-a-dozen ‘ jugnus’, sparkles and a palm-full of aaloo bombs.
After a quick recce of the tastefullybedecked shops, I would return home at dusk. Granny would break into a smile on seeing me return with a bagful of goodies, crackers and earthen diyas for Diwali pujan.
After a brief Luxmi- puja, followed by the lighting of diyas, it would be a date with lip-smacking Himachali dishes, which we would relish to our heart’s fill. Uncles and aunts would join us over dinner.
I can still feel the warmth of those divine moments frozen in time.
Diwali, or any other festival for that matter, has now become a festival of the rich, while a man with meagre means in these times of inflation has no choice but to continue fighting the grim battle for survival.
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