We rarely keep track of festivals. However, some festivals will find you even if you don’t go looking for them. Everything in stores will be covered with specific colours, bows, or in glitter. And there’s the deluge of “offers” in the mailbox. Mothers’ Day is when you go cross-eyed with all the ghastly pink stuff in every aisle. (Does someone really think that once a woman becomes a mother she renounces all other colours?)
And there are the hearts for Valentine’s Day.
In grade 8 biology class I learnt that human hearts are fist-shaped. Only frogs’ hearts are heart shaped. So why do these marketing folks keep putting hearts on everything? Do they lead schizophrenic lives alternating as frogs? Or did they just skip biology classes?
Coming back to Diwali, our barometer to sense an approaching Indian festival is the Indian store. Clay lamps in the aisle herald Diwali.
Blogging has changed all that. For weeks now, we’re been sensing that Diwali is around the corner. Three days ago, J decided, “Today is Diwali”.
I never liked Diwali as a kid. I was terrified of firecrackers, and couldn’t wait for the noise pollution to subside. :notlisten I used to keep my window locked at all times, for the week before Diwali, afraid that my curtains would catch fire.
One year, a week before Diwali, one of my neighbours’ curtains on the third storey caught fire from a shooting firecracker, and he was out of town. By the time they broke into his apartment and doused the fire, a lot of his furniture had been destroyed.
When he returned, he was told, “It happens, you just got unlucky.” He was not compensated by the parents of the kid who did it, and the kid (around ten years old) was still out everyday with his friends, setting off rockets in narrow alleyways between high-rise buildings, and waking up people at 4.30 a.m. with a string of crackers that went on deafeningly for 3 whole minutes.
She did make some sweets and savouries for Diwali, but it was out of obligation. We got goodies from the neighbours, and didnt want to return their bowls empty. My dad, like me, was festival-immune.
I associated Diwali with noise and pollution, Ganesh Chaturthi with traffic jams and and Navratri with nine nights of loudspeaker hell when I was preparing for my mid-term exams. The one festival I hated with a passion was Holi.
For 15 days before Holi, you couldn’t walk on the street or go anywhere without someone trying to douse you with colored water or something foul, especially if you were female. Good luck if you had to hang out of a crowded local train for the week before Holi.
As an adult, I had people (some not even related to me) tell me that “you should atleast light a lamp for Diwali”, with the sanctimonious “you just don’t get it” tone. They take it upon themselves to educate everyone around them about ‘tradition’ – their own tradition, not mine.
Well, there are whole communities in India that don’t celebrate Diwali, even if they are Hindus. My mom, who grew up in Kerala, had no clue what this festival was until she moved out of Kerala.
And there are some people like myself, who have heard of Diwali, and seen it celebrated, but “just don’t get it”. Really.
I couldn’t “get” why people had to celebrate in public and couldn’t confine their festivities to inside their homes or within spaces where others were not inconvenienced. I still don’t. And I don’t get why it should bother some folks if others don’t follow their ‘traditions’. As far as I am concerned, each person creates his or her own traditions.
I guess it’s a control thing. It makes some people feel powerful to bully others. Throwing coloured water or a stone at a stranger, holding up traffic to take a procession through the streets (if someone has a heart attack and needs an ambulance, good luck), waking people up at 4 a.m. on a working day – all in the guise of “celebration”. It makes someone feel in control if they ask others to light lamps for Diwali.
Outside India, I began to actually like and enjoy Diwali, since people celebrate it quietly and joyously indoors. The same people whose kids recklessly set off firecrackers in India wouldn’t DARE move on as if nothing happened in the event of an accident in any other country.
Now, I’m beginning to “get” what Diwali is about. I’m beginning to see how the Festival of Lights need not always be accompanied by noise and callousness, and I’m glad it’s not what it was when I was growing up in Bombay. I’m beginning to discover how these festivals can be celebrated in a sane and respectful manner.
But I don’t celebrate them myself.
The way I see it, festivals simply mean more work for the woman of the house. Let’s do a cost-benefit analysis here.
This is strictly based on my observations. In the days preceding the festival, she goes shopping for all the ingredients, buys everything (or most of the things), cooks elaborate meals and snacks, performs most of the religious rituals associated with the festival.
Men do maybe 10-20% of the work involved in organising a festival celebration in the home. And then everyone can claim that they are “upholding tradition”. This is an incentive structure that doesn’t make sense. If most women in most households let festivals pass by without acknowledging them, they don’t get acknowledged. Often, women get flak for not “upholding tradition” and need to explain why they don’t, but if you’re a man, you’ve got it set.
Don’t even get me started about following “your husband’s tradition”. My mom got flak for not following my dad’s family traditions, but no one badgered my dad about following her traditions, or even his own.
So people expect a woman to do 80% of the work to claim she upheld a ‘tradition’? What if she’s not familar with it or not interested in it?
Does she constantly have to Justify? Argue? Defend? Explain??
To heck with that.
Early on, I had relatives and strangers sounding all concerned, but struggling to hide the condescension: “But isn’t J a Tamilian? Don’t you celebrate a, b or c?”
The fact is it doesn’t matter where he’s from. HE is distinct from ME. He also doesn’t happen to give a rat’s patootie about a, b or c. I will pour myself a margarita, and that’s good enough a celebration for me. Some people think I’m betraying my ‘heritage’. Well, I’m not losing sleep over it. And no, my childhood was not traumatic because my parents didn’t uphold the ‘heritage’ according to the culture police’s specifications.
J, unlike moi, grew up celebrating everything under the sun. Celebrating, as in the whole nine yards – the religious rituals and the whole array of festival foods. Now, if he wants to celebrate, I will celebrate with him. (Not for him) If not, it’s not my problem.
Well, actually, let me rephrase that. If J wants to celebrate, OR if there’s an event in the blogsphere, I may acknowledge a festival. :horn:
Then the day before yesterday, I was informed that “Diwali is tomorrow”. Well, it doesn’t matter. We enjoyed them and I’m sending this to Vee.
My first attempt at caramel ended up in lumpy sugar crystals. On my second attempt, I added 2 tablespoons of water and kept stirring. The crystals formed and most of them melted back down.
1.25 cups of broken cashews
1.25 cups of sugar (we used raw cane sugar)
a pinch of salt
a pinch of saffron
1/2 tsp of rose water
2 tsps oil to grease baking sheet and rolling pin
1. Toast broken cashews until very light brown. (This can be done in the microwave.)
2. Grease the back of a baking sheet and a rolling pin with oil.
3. Melt the sugar in a pan to make caramel.
Here’s a step-by-step demo. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to get the crystals from the side of the pan back at the bottom, and keep stirring the sugar until light amber. Using 2 tablespoons of water may help prevent the sugar from burning in the initial stages. We also added the rose water, salt and saffron when the sugar melted.
4. Add the nuts to the sugar when it turns ino an amber liquid, then quickly mix once and put the mixture on the greased baking sheet. Wear long gloves, ‘cos the sugar mixture will be scalding hot. Spread it out with a rolling pin and let it cool.
5. Score and cut into diamonds.
We wish those of you who celebrate Diwali a wonderful festive season.
- Bee (and Jai)