by Swatee Jog
This past fortnight, I reach office quite early. Not owing to my time management, but because my newspaper reading time has halved. All the papers are carrying full-page advertisements for online shopping companies declaring their mega sales. Products scream to me that I ought to buy ‘this Diwali’. From fashion, jewelry, computers, vehicles, furniture to cookware and consumer durables, I’m inundated with offers enticing me to buy things cheaper, better, faster, ‘this Diwali’! Bogarves, Station circle, Channamma Circle are all choc a bloc with hoardings that can sometimes distract as you drive.
If you think Ganpat Galli and Maruti Galli would be better in the noon, you’re happily mistaken. See the crowds there and you’d wonder if it’s Saturday, any day. The colorful rangoli stalls are up and so are the lanterns. Fairy lights seem to have cropped up from nowhere to spread cheer. As you enter your locality, smells of freshly fried chakli, shankarpali or chivda being made waft through the air, lifting your spirits up in anticipation of Diwali. Schools will soon close again and kids will take to building forts, lighting loose firecrackers and just jumping around.
One thing you’d notice is that consumption has become an integral part of Diwali celebrations, buying, spending (more) money being equated to doing good and enjoyment, thanks to savvy marketing and brand managers. Agreed that many families often save over the year to make big purchases during Diwali, things like a vehicle or that new refrigerator, TV or a piece of gold jewelry, at least.
Many companies declare bonuses during Diwali which strengthens pockets of middle-class families, so cash-strapped otherwise. But relating Diwali to how much you spend on gifts and how many things you buy, how many thousand rupees you spend on the crackers does not make sense if the festival of joy is associated with consumption alone. It not only exerts pressure on people who may not afford to buy all that and more but even leaves them feeling guilty and their loved ones feeling ignored.
Diwali brings with it the spirit of togetherness, of coming home to home-made sweets and lights, of Pujas and blessings. The nip in the air just right for that fragrant bath and the taste of freshly made faral staying back for days. Diwali can be a memorable event for the entire family if only shorn of all the consumerism that has come to be associated with it, of late. It is important to detach oneself from the marketing gimmicks, not fall prey to the lure of offers and make the festival meaningful for the whole family.
Plan your Diwali in advance, don’t just take it as it comes. If you’re planning to visit your family back home, book your tickets in advance to avoid the last-minute rush and inflated tickets.
Plan for the gifts that each member of the house would need and appreciate. It need not be expensive, just sensible. I once got a lunch box for Diwali which I badly needed in the early days of my career.
* Instead of spending a bomb on buying expensive gifts, one could also plan a get-together with the whole family at some special place. That would mean a lot to the kids and the elders than having that next big flashy gadget. It would also stay in memory forever. Book a van to a nearby temple-town or a resort. Make arrangements for some home-stay where you can spend quality time chatting, singing and having meals with family.
* Try and invite kids from an orphanage or from the special schools to your home. These kids have had enough guests visiting them at their place and celebrating numerous birthdays with laddoos and cakes. They would find joy in being invited to someone’s home instead. I remember a five-year-old smart boy from a blind school that we visited who sat forlorn on the steps and refused to take a laddoo in his hand. ‘I’m bored of eating laddoo every day’, he said. We can create an experience for them rather than just gifting them sweets, books, and clothes.
* Crackers that burn up thousands of rupees in ash within seconds can be replaced with lamps and lights with a mild fragrance, flower torans and Rangolis. Making a rangoli at home on all the days of Diwali is a charm one can hardly miss. And Belgaumites have the luxury of having your own front-yards and backyards. Try using flowers instead of the traditional rangoli on one day, beads on another day and lamps on the third.
* Connect with long lost friends and members of the extended family. Kids find it extremely joyful to have uncles, aunts, grandparents, and cousins coming together. If Diwali is associated with goodness and brightness, let that shine in your relationships. Invite uncles and aunts, host cousins over dinners and lunches. Let the kids know the big family. Take plenty of pictures and let them make family trees and albums. All those crackers you’d burn would never equate the joy of memories. In the heat of making careers and a matrix of promotions, competitive colleagues, salary hikes and EMIs, we have realized the importance of good communication but forgotten to talk to our own families. Bury those old grudges and start a new chapter.
* Have you thought of visiting the army personnel at their posts in border areas and celebrating Diwali with them? One can always do that with due permissions and if you are a travel buff. If you know of some soldier away from home, visit him and hand him some home-made sweets, seek permission to place small earthen diyas at their posts, sing with them and make their day. One could even invite your office colleagues who are residing alone far away from home. There are much personnel who don’t get to come home for Diwali. Make their day special.
* Create awareness about safe driving and safe fireworks, etc. Visit schools and spread the message of not lighting crackers that pollute the environment, with the help of your friends and volunteers. Join someone who’s already doing it. Design posters that promote safe celebrations. If your actions avert a disaster, some family will thank you for that
* Trust Mastercard when it confesses there are some things money can really not buy. It includes the surge of endorphins while frying those sweets in your kitchen. Allow the kids to gobble up as you make them, for if you forbid them, you may well end up this stuff being not eaten until days after Diwali is over. Chaklis, shankarpali, laddoos, karanji, chivda, chirote… the list of sweets and savories prepared only during Diwali is endless. Everything is available in the market, not the joy of making at home. Look up for Youtube tutorials, many websites even offer step by step photo guides. Make them in small batches if you risk going wrong. Call mom for tips and tricks if you wish.
* Organize formal family gatherings where the elders of the home narrate the significance of each day of Diwali to the young ones. Especially if you have kids of impressionable age, you can teach a lesson or two in culture and values through these stories. Starting with Dhanteras which involves worshipping Goddess Laxmi, one can link it to earning wealth in a righteous manner and respecting money at all times. Narakchaturdashi signifies the victory of good over evil. Let the young members know that goodness always prevails over evil, even in day to day lives. Narrate the significance of using the ubtan in bathing, something our forefathers did to stay healthy and smell divine. The more inclined ones can arrange for a small Puja at home and invite friends, colle, gues and neighbors. How better to teach the art of being good hosts? Worshipping Goddess Laxmi, Saraswati and Lord Ganesha is a symbolic way of revering wealth, knowledge and skills.
* Visit places that render peace and positivity on Pratipada, a temple could also be an option. Cherish the bond of siblings on Bhai dooj, let them cook simple dishes together or create a card or a gift for the sister. Call your siblings if they stay far away. Invite them for a hearty dinner and share the memories of your childhood. Children who see their parents bonding with family end up valuing family ties more than ever.
* Buying the standard SoanPapdi for the serving staff and keeping the dry fruit boxes for the elite friends and acquaintances makes for a very selfish act. Try reversing it instead! Gift the serving staff what they really need, and you know it well with interaction. It could be the maid’s son’s fees, the driver’s worn out spectacles or a water filter for the security personnel. Invite them for tea and snacks and let them sit in your living room for a change.
Every culture the world-over cherishes its festivals. They are occasions for spreading joy, creating memories, spending quality time with family and bonding with loved ones. Festivals break monotony and serve as moments you look forward to. They make you loosen a bit and live a life being your true self. New clothes, jewelry, cars, fireworks, wads of cash and competition to spend more than that neighbor or the colleague can only leave you frustrated, simmering with a feeling of not doing enough and leave memories of materialistic one-upmanship. Let the festival of lights brighten up your lives in its truest sense.