Your Diwali or Mine? (A short story)

"Wow! This is so lovely! How do you draw it so well Amma?" Anshi asked, looking at the rangoli with huge brown eyes that only a six year old could have.

Simran looked at her daughter and smiled. Right now she was the centre of Anshi's world, she knew, and anything she did was amazing and too good in Anshi's eyes. Although she also knew that this would soon change. But right now, she was happy being the 'world's best Amma!' 

Simran smiled and asked "You like it?" And then she beckoned her daughter, "Come here, why don't you help me with a bit of colour too? Would you like to do the green colour?"

Needing no further invitation, Anshi jumped off the shoe-rack she was sitting on and started filling in the green colour right in the centre of the rangoli Simran had drawn. 

Diwali was two days away and the school had shut for a week. Simran was only too happy to spend the festive time with her daughter. They had started on the sweets since morning; and now it was afternoon and while Simran wanted to rest a bit, Anshi was too excited to rest; and so, they were out in the corridor leading up to their flat; with Simran introducing her daughter to the art of rangoli.

"Amma, will I too be able to draw beautiful rangoli like you when I grow up?" Anshi asked. 
"Of course sweetheart! But you need to practice. I have had a lot of practice myself, and I am not even half as good as your Nani! If you want to see the real rangoli, you should see hers!" Simran said.

"Really?” Those huge brown eyes again!

Simran was smiling, remembering her childhood and the fun she had with her brother at her parents' house. “Yes! You will not believe it, but come Diwali, we would go crazy! Me and your maama!”

"Really? What did you do? How did you celebrate Diwali when you were younger? Tell me na Amma, was your Diwali same as mine?" Anshi was eager to know.

"Oh Anshi! Where do I begin…Listen, this rangoli is almost done. Let’s go inside. How about we make some Tang and I tell you all about it?” Simran asked.

“Yayyy! I will mix the Tang, I can do it, you just see!” Anshi ran into the kitchen. And a few minutes later, she came out with a bottle of Mango Tang, her favourite; and with two unbreakable glasses that were part of her own special crockery set.

As the afternoon sun streamed through the sheer curtains that were teased by a soft breeze, mother and daughter settled on the sofa – the mother nostalgic, and the daughter eager and excited.

"Amma, tell me, fast! I want to know everything!” Anshi was keen.

"Oh sweetie,” Simran said. “Diwali is the festival of lights and sweets and gifts and love! That hasn’t changed in all these years. But yes, the way we celebrated the festival then and the way we do today has changed a lot.

You know, I grew up in Mumbai; where the signs of Diwali arrive much before the actual festival begins. Every shop on every corner and every market place gives you the first glimpse of this festival of lights! The city is completely lit up, with most houses and shopfronts sporting beautifully decorated hanging lights and lanterns of all sorts. They also have beautiful lamps in various shapes and sizes and designs. All radiant and glowing; announcing the arrival of the upcoming festival. Oh Anshi, it’s such a beautiful sight!” Simran had a twinkle in her eyes by now, and a wistful smile.

“Wow! But Amma, how did you celebrate the Diwali? Same as we do? Or was your Diwali different from mine?!!" now Anshi wanted the real deal.

“Oh sweetie, our Diwali preparations at home would start at least a month in advance. Ma would start cleaning up the house. It was special Diwali cleaning, serious business. Next came the preparation of special Diwali sweets and snacks. My Nani would visit us, and Ma and Nani would get busy in the kitchen. Every day, there would be something new and delicious being made in our kitchen! Laddoos, chivda, sev, chakli, shakkarpare….all yummy snacks!

We kids had the job of making and hanging our lanterns at home; and building the Diwali fort, like the ones Shivaji Maharaj used to have. We would also have a list of crackers ready for Papa to buy for us. And new clothes and gifts would be bought for everyone before the festival too!”

“Wow! Amma, this is all so exciting!” Anshi was wonderstruck. “Please tell me about the actual days of the Diwali na, what did you do? Did you burst a lot of crackers? Did you paint the diyas like we do now?”

Simran lived with her daughter and her husband. Their parents lived in a different city. Hers was a cross-culture marriage, within the religion, but in a different community; and she had moved out soon after the wedding. Neither Simran nor her husband, were big on ceremony or traditions and festivals were merely gala time with family and friends. Then Anshi had come along, and Simran had devised her own ways of celebrating the festivals with her daughter and her husband. This was part of the reason why Anshi was so interested in Simran’s childhood celebration of Diwali. The child was looking for some validation. And Simran was ready to provide all the validation she could!  

“No sweetie.” She said. “We didn’t paint the diyas then. But we arranged them beautifully around the rangolis and the flower arrangements around the house. And crackers? That would begin weeks before! But our crackers were nothing like the fancy ones that you have nowadays. Ours were more subdued. Only a few people burst loud crackers, then, or used the rockets. We were more interested in the barish or the anar and the chakkar instead.”

“Cool!” said Anshi. “What did you do on the actual Diwali day? When is the actual Diwali Day anyway?” she wanted to know.

Simran smiled. “Diwali is actually a five day festival. The first day is Dhana Trayodashi or Dhan Teras. This is the day when we are thankful for all the wealth the Almighty has given us. Ma would buy some gold or silver on that day and perform Pooja for it. This was the official start to the five-day Diwali festival.

The next day was Narak Chaturdashi the day when Krishna is said to have killed the demon Narakasura. We would all wake up early that day, before sunrise; and wear new clothes. Ma would then perform an Aarti for all of us family members; and we would burst crackers till sunrise. That day, we would do Abyang Snan, which is a bath taken after applying scented powder known as Utna or ubtan which had herbs and turmeric, sandalwood and other aromatic powders added it to. For breakfast that day we would have the first tasting of our Diwali snacks, officially. All the family members visited each other that day. With boxes of sweets and gifts and we took blessings from our elders.  

The next day would be Lakshmi Pujan, the day we worshipped Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. This pooja is done in the evening at a special time, known as the Muhurat. This is also the day when merchants worship their merchandise and close the account books for the old year. That evening the crackers would sound the loudest! And we were allowed outside for longer than any other day.

The fourth day is known as Bali Pratipada or Diwali Padwa. This is the first day of the new Hindu month known as Kartika Masa. This day is said to be the most auspicious day to start something new!

The fifth day is the Bhau Bij or Bhai Duj in Hindi. This is a celebration of sibling love. Just like on Raksha Bandhan, this day too, the brother-sister relationship is celebrated; when the siblings wish and pray for each other’s well-being and prosperity.

And that, my dear, is the end of the five-day long Diwali festival.” Simran said.

Anshi was sitting mesmerised. “Wow!” she said finally. “Amma, we celebrate Diwali more or less the same way, don’t we. Just that, we paint the lamps. We make the snacks and sweets too. And we too visit our friends and elders with sweets and gifts. We have much cooler crackers these days, though; and much cooler lanterns too! So, which one do you like more Amma? Your Diwali, or mine?”

Simran sighed. The sun had set and it was time to light up their home. All the lamps and lanterns were ready in place. Diwali was two days away. She had spent the day reminiscing her childhood celebrations; and here she was, all set to celebrate the festival of lights, her way, in her own home. As she lit each little lamp in every room, Simran thought of her daughter’s question “Which one do you like more Amma, your Diwali or mine?”            

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