The best diwali that I have ever had!!!
Rajdeep got me remembering my most favorite diwali. I did not have to try very hard for I remember that diwali like it happened just yesterday. It was a season of joy and sorrow….. but then isn’t life just like that!!!
My favorite diwali has mixed feelings one of dread and also one of the best. This happened a long time ago….. when I was very little. My Ma had a tumor in her uterus a very big one…. the doctors advised hysterectomy to ensure that in case it was of a malignant nature (it was growing very fast) it wouldn’t metastasise to other parts. They did not want to do a biopsy for the same reasons. But she was anemic and the doctors (Dr Banoo Coyaji) did not think that she could handle the surgery at that point of time…… so it was delayed by some time. In those days hysterectomy was a major surgery. In meantime the tumor grew larger. The doctors had assured that they would try to save the uterus and excise only the tumor but they had got us prepared for the worst. We were very anxious because carcinoma was a strong word even in those days….. something that did not have any remedy or solution.
At that juncture, dad had prayed to our family goddess Kali that if ma came out of it hale and hearty and everything went well…. he would sacrifice a lamb/goat. I don’t remember the breed. Ma came out of the surgery successfully and though the doctors had to carry out the hysterectomy, she was fine.
Bengalis celebrate Kali Puja every year on the night of Diwali (amavasya). At our home in Kolkata, Kali Puja has been taking place for generations. The whole population in the area comes to our home for the puja. Most of them are relatives (my immediate and extended family is really HUGE).
So that year we went to Kolkata for Diwali/Kali Puja soon after our holidays began. It was my most favorite diwali…….. because as a kid I was really pampered and i cant even remember the number of clothes I got for Kali puja that year. It was the only time I was exposed to a festival with the entire of the Chakraborty clan…. man it is huge!!! Since I had lived in a nuclear family all my life, I was overwhelmed by the number of cousins I had at that very young age. I came to know I was not only an aunt to many elders and even a GRANDMOTHER. The sheer magnanimity of the whole thing is still so fresh in my memory as if happened just yesterday. It was my first experience that i recall of a joint family.
My paternal grandparents were alive then and maternal grandfather too. The whole house was buzzing with relatives a couple of days in advance. There were so many goodies being prepared. Every meal was of a langar nature wherein we used to eat on leaves, squatting on the floor. My grandmother….. Amma as we used to call her, used to sit on a small stool and supervise all of us eating and ensuring that all of us were eating properly. My Ma and aunts used to serve…… and every time I wanted a second helping of something exotic (specially my favorite begun bhaja…. I have always been a sucker for begun bhaja) I used to be nudged to silence by my sister, who was given instructions to see that I did not ask for more, lest something would fall short for somebody else. All the cooking for the household and festivities were done by my ma and aunts…… they never called for help from outside for the cooking. The cooking was done in a chula (earthen oven) made of mud in the ground and it was fuelled by cow dung cakes and coal and wood.
Amma and Dadu ate separately usually after the daily narayan (saligram) puja was over. The children always ate first, followed by the men in the house and last it would be the turn of my mother and aunts. All this time till the last person in the house had eaten, Amma would sit on the small stool and supervise and see that everybody got everything and nothing ever fell short. Today, when I run my house and I have guests, for that matter even on regular days, I either run short or sometimes things go waste. But in Amma’s regime I used to see that nobody lacked anything and things were recycled so beautifully that nothing ever got wasted, things were reordered and replenished in time and there was never a shortage specially considering the number of people in the household and no help, still things moved clockwise. Today, I also marvel at Amma’s memory who remembered all the things that all her grandchildren loved to eat (we are 18 of us total) and saw to it that it was made for them.
On the eve of Kali Puja a pandal was set up at the angan of the house (my house is huge) and there were various decoratiove festoons that were being put up. A dhak was brought on rent as my cousins are adept players. It was a joyous day. In the evening dad brought home a very cute little goat. We were so happy at seeing our new pet that all of us trooped in to get grass for her and water and taking her for a walk and playing with her. My Ma’s house (maternal grandparents) is just around the corner from my dad’s house and they had lot of grass growing there….. so we all went there and plucked out grass for our new pet. We already had a cow at dad’s house……. so we were pleased that now there would be two animals there. We played with her all day and all evening. Since I am the youngest in the whole household everybody humored me and let me do what I wanted.
The next day on the morning of Kali Puja, Dadu……. my paternal grandfather, dad and uncles started the preparations for the puja. Ma did the alpona and my aunts started the cooking for the family and the guests who would come in the evening. I was whisked by my maternal uncles to my maternal grandfather who they said was missing me…. little did I know that they would be sacrificing my new pet to the goddess. I was kept busy there by my cousins and aunts so that I would not come home….. Later I saw my sister weeping and then I came to know that our pet would be killed….. I don’t ever remember all three of us crying and pleading to let her go. When we were finally allowed to go home (accompanied by my whole family in my mother’s side) we saw her being slaughtered!!! I will never in my whole life ever forget that scene. The desperate bleating of the animal and the cruelty of the barbaric act has stayed with me till date…… The worst part was that the head of the animal was kept offered to the goddess and kept in front during the puja. Dadu did the puja and after the slaughter a tikka was put on every body’s forehead with the blood of the animal……. that was the day I turned vegetarian!!! I am not going to debate the cons of animal slaughter because I can go on for days and nights and years. It was the bad part…. the part i dreaded!!!
I was bribed and consoled and lots of other things were done to see that I did not cry and yeah all three of us definitely did not eat the meat that day and for many more years to come. As for me I totally abhor meat since that day. But this blog post is about my favorite diwali not on the story of my becoming a vegetarian. Coming back to the kali puja celebrations, that evening I was literally MADE to forget about the incident by everyone in the household….. with my dadu promising that there would be no more blood shed in the house and my cousins and uncles gifting me with loads of crackers etc etc.
In the evening lamps were lit in the whole house….. my brothers played the dhak and some of my uncles and cousins did the dhunuchi dance and I got to burst a whole lot of crackers…… some of which I had never even seen before. We were given a whole lot of sweets to eat and all the festivities went way up to dawn the next day.
The next day was bhai dooj at my maternal grandparents place…… It was the first time I ever gave bhaiphota. We are three sisters and always miss having a brother on days of rakshabandhan and bhaiphota….. so we enjoyed giving the phota specially because it meant a lot to us. We were showered with lots of blessings and gifts and sweets. My mother also gave phota to her brothers. So did my mashis (maternal aunts). It was very beautiful….. something I still remember and miss till date because that was the only diwali i spent with my family. At night in my paternal grandparents place we went to the lake for the visarjan of the goddess with a mashaal (torch) as is customary and came back with the shantir jol.
The next day was bhai phota at my dad’s house and the whole household was again bustling with activity…… This day was more special for me as it was also my birthday. So there was added excitement. I was dressed in finery. Amma made special pitha and kheer for me and then in the evening all of us sisters gave phota to my brothers (paternal cousins) and my pishis (my paternal aunts) gave phota to my dad and uncles. Then everybody celebrated my birthday.
At home in Pune ma used to bake a cake for my birthday and a lot of other sweet and salty faraal and she used to make my favorite meal of everything that I liked to eat. In the evening all my friends used to come home to wish me and then I used to cut my cake and then all of us used to eat.
Unlike the usual, my birthday that year was celebrated differently. I was made to sit on a small low stool and there was a lamp lit in front of me and all the elders in the family (I was the youngest in both households at that time) would come and bless me with chandan, (sandalwood) some durva, (grass) and dhan (rice with the husk on) symbolising good health and longevity and I touched their feet and to seek their blessings. Yeah !!! they also popped in a little rosogolla at a time …. yum yum!!!! I had a hell lot of rosogolla that day!!!
The eldest in the household – my grandparents started the blessing and it ended with the youngest. My whole family on both sides along with my extended family was present and they all blessed me. I do not believe in the saying “no man can bless another”, instead i think that when they are blessing me, the goodness in them is passing on to me, and such positive vibes do make a difference.
At that time I was small so i was more interested in the gifts that I got but today I really wish I could go back in the time machine and recapture that moment and relive it as an adult…… Till date I have never ever tasted a better payesh and Kulipitha as made by Amma (the taste still lingers on my palate and if I could recreate it and pen it down, I would be able to do it to the dot……. I remember it so well) nor can I remember getting so many clothes and toys and dolls…….. nor can I remember feeling so important nor can I remember bursting so many crackers nor can I remember meeting so many people with the same genes as me …… etc etc….The list is very big…… in short, it was the best diwali of my life!!! I still treasure that diwali and relive the memory of being part of such a huge and close knit family, being so much loved and cherished and having so much fun amidst rituals!!!