Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Festival Of Lights

I am back to work! I feel terrible. I am like a 2nd grader who is being pushed to go to school because.. really .. there is no other option!!! If there was a better place than school wouldn't we all love to go there? I wish for a better place than work. In fact I precisely wish for a pot that just keeps pumping out money and my only job would be to spend that money. I guess this feeling is a hangover from last weeks celeberations. I have got quite a few mails (especially from those on the other side of the atlantic) asking me how the 7000 Rs was burned to dust. Writing about it makes me wanna resign my job and go away( in general i want to do so).. but hey.. I need money for next years deepavali :-)

The sound of fireworks at 4:00 AM woke me up on Deepavali. But that wretched " 5 more minutes ma!" made my actual wake up time 4:35. I am not sure if its common across all people.. but ever since I could walk and trouble elders for fire crackers, Deepavali starts with "maruthaani"-on-your-legs routine. As a kid, I got lined-up with other kids in the kitchen. The new dresses would be kept in the Puja room the previous night. Either my mom or grandma would make everybody sit down one-by-one and put "maruthaani"(mehendi sort of thing) on our legs. A line each by the side of the legs and two lines perpendicular to the (oh! well.. i am getting old.. in my college days i would have made a smartass comment) leg-fingers. And a big dot is kept between those two lines. Then we will have the shortest oil bath of the day. All the time until we finish our bath, there is growing frustration of the clock ticking and depriving us of prime real-estate deepavali time. The cracker sounds outside gives that "others have started .. you are lagging behind" feeling.

Whenever I was dressed, ready and waiting in the terrace for other's to join me, I used to think of the legendary "Swamy and friends" stories, where our hero comes early for the evening cricket and is lazily tapping the ball until others join him. Essentially the morning of Deepavali is a race against time! you just cant afford to be late! The stupid sun rises at 6:30 and spoils all the fun! This year like the many before, I spent the morning wait-time lining up the flowerpots, the ground chakkars, deciding the order in which I would burst the stuff! I Partitioned the crackers for morning noon and night! The ladies are generally late but this deepavali ( after constant critisisms from pervious years) they were up much early and we men folk were kinda lazing around.

So we started at around 5:30AM and had a full 45 minutes of flowerpots and stuff before the Sun announced a change in menu item . As the day wears on atom bombs, red-fort crackers, bijili's shivaji, lakshmi, netaji, sparrow, crackers come into focus. Everything except red-fort is a piece-by-piece item. It makes reasonable noise and consumes lot of time (which in no way communicates less fun). For the past N years at 7:00 AM Postal Colony IIIrd street, West Mambalam, stops and watches my neighbour's show of power. He buys crackers for 7000 Rs. Buts just four to five 10,000 walas. Nothing more Nothing less. He rolls it out like unwrapping a carpet, lights it on the front back and middle and for 30 continuous minutes four 10,000 walas shatter the air like anything. All the old mama's and mami's will be whispering " too much money for a government employee. Dunno where the money comes from" and they will give a wink (this is a different wink). This year was no different. Buses, autos and cycles stopped to watch the display in absolute amazement.

In general this 30 minutes is when people choose to call from out-of-station and end-up asking Silly questions like "oh! are they bursting crackers ha ha ha" and replies will be like " what..whaaat? ya ..they are bursting crackers". I remember visiting my great grandfather every deepavali until he passed away in 1999. He was a little short of hearing( actually he couldn't hear at all) and in the middle of my conversation with him, the crackers would start bursting. Blissfully unaware of this, he would go on talking and I would struggle to tell him to press the pause button. A couple of years he was thrown off by my frantic face gestures when he was talking. He must've thought I was getting electrocuted or something.

Apart from fireworks, sweets and TV programs, visit to various relative's houses is also a source of joy! On the road you have to pause every 10 yards to let an atom bomb finish its thing or 3000 wala blast its heart out! During the 80's we were the "Bajaj Scooter" family, where my dad drove the quintessential Bajaj Super ( There is the Lamby, Girnar, Bajaj Chetak, Bajaj-M80 variants too) scooter, I stood in the front ( my head barely popping out over the headlight/speedometer thing to get a view of the outside world). My mom sat in the back with my brother precariously rested on her laps. This is the classic Indian family advertisement. 9 out of 10 people on the road resembled this prototypical family. I still see this "scooter family" sometimes on the road and reminisce with joy. Whenever we had to stop for a "firework" break, I would get down watch with ample glee the "free" cracker show and then get on the scooter and carry on. Every aunt's place we stopped, my dad would carefully park this precious scooter behind the bushes and instruct two kids to take care of the scooter(it was more valuable than a BMW to him.. in those days Bajaj Super which could climb the Gemini flyover without coughing was a source of prestige and a status symbol :-) ) . For kids like us these stops were "bonus miles" where we mingled with the local kids to burst more fireworks at cousin's expense.

There is the "Deepavali Lagiyam" (deepavali medicine) which deserves mention on any description of this festival. Its given on most houses. My mom never makes them because we get to eat tonnes of that in my aunt's house. A little bit of this is supposed to be good for the stomach. Too much of it though eats the stomach away!! and we had twice as much as what "too much" constitutes.

For those of you down south, Television programmes also have a tradition on deepavali. There is the morning "melam", which is the traditional 20 minute 'miruthangam' music show. There is the Solomon Popaiyah "Patti Mandram" ( excuse the spelling ) which is the annual "debate" on some important social issue. In the days when "Hindustan Contesa" was India's only anwer to the Ferrari, "Patti Mandram" was a big rage. The "Men" Vs "Women", "Mother Vs Daughter-in-law" debates continued among the public ( in government offices and banks at the public's own expense) even after Mr. Popaiyah had given his verdict.

I usually detest going to movies on the day of deepavali. I made exceptions for Manirathnam movies. Since he hasn't released a movie on deepavali after "Thiruda Thiruda" in 1993, I have been spared of this discomfort. Usually Deepavali is when Kamal and Rajini face-off and showed their might. As far as I can remember 1991 was the year when the biggest line-up of movies thundered the theatres. All the 6 top heros then, Rajini ( Thalapathi), Kamal( Guna), Sathyaraj( Brahma), Prabhu, karthik and Vijaykanth had a big release. After 1992 Kamal ( Devar Magan) and Rajini (Pandian) decided not to release a movie on the same day owing to huge fan-clashes. Since then I somehow feel, the thrill of Deepavali movie releases has gone down. Ananda Vikatan readers will also remember that a new story by somebody as famous as Sujatha is usually launched on Deepavali day. I remember there was a story series called "Aaaaah" by Sujatha that got started in AV from 1991 deepavali. its a complex psycological thriller about a voice inside a man's head. That was the first tamizh full length series I ever read. This deepavali, I did not see the television at all. The cable TV blackout in certain parts of Madras ( well.. parts of W.Mambalam) was the reason. I missed drooling at Trisha and Reema Sen ... otherwise no big misses.

A wonderful mail from Sridhar (Dallas) reminded me of the pleasure involved in ripping apart Red-fort crackers to single bijilis and bursting them patiently. Afternoons flies away fast if we do that. Another interesting thing which many may relate to is throwing the Bijilis by hand. You light it and wait until the flame is tantalizingly close to the white part of the fuse and throw it high in the air. If its bursts on air, there is that satisfactory smile. Otherwise its considered a shame! I am not sure if many remember "vengaya vedi" It is the one which resembles an onion and if you throw it on the floor/wall real fast it burst. It sort of simulates a hand grenade. I guess after some years of constant misuse it was banned.

The finale on the evening of Deepavali was fantastic. This year was totally unbelievable. The skies just lit up like anything. We lit crackers in our terrace which was in the fifth floor and the atmosphere was almost surreal. Pothys( or some shop near it) has a big 7 flash light thingie. 7 flashlights rotate randomly throwing bright light into the sky ( resembling the flash lights used in war). With rockets and special fireworks lighting up the sky almost every second , the atmosphere was simply unbelievable. I had around 20 special items, 120 rockets and tons of ground chakkars/flower pots and red-fort saved up for the night. I started at 6:30PM and we kept continuously ( i mean without a seconds gap) until 9 :00 PM.

There was a new thing called "butterfly magic". This is a tiny thing and if you light it up it rotates fast and lifts into the air. Out of the 10 we tried 7 were flops were it just flew at us in random directions. The three which were sucessfull just flew up neatly in the air like a butterfly and went in the direction of my neighbours house :-). There is this electric flowerpot which also deserves special mention. It goes up like a regular flower pot but its more electric ( well.. yeah) . It does just throw up flame drops like regular flowerpots but each drop is like an electric thing making sounds and glowing by itself. Mighty impressive . Need to cut down on the regular flower pots and buy this next year. The rockets (30 or so still left unused) were satsifactory. Although there is that constant fear that rockets can go anywhere, most of what we lit flew up and burst safely in the skies. There were some "ooh" and "aah" moments when you think the fuse is gone off and the thing suddenly takes off when you go near it!. Its heartbreaking when 200Rs special goes "bussss". But we invented a technique where we inserted a sparkler into the fuse hole and lit the sparkler from reverse. Two of our "almost flops" lit up the sky magnificently this way. Another thing that stuck me from Sridhar's mail was that since childhood I watched some of the more affluent neighbors burst for a zillion rupees. I mentally made up a resolution that when I grow up and earn I would buy crackers for zillion rupees and burst the living hell out of my neighbourhood( its a completely different matter that I lost patience midway and decided to realize my ambition using my dad's salary itself :-) ). Somehow burstin crackers regardless of its value etc. gives a sort of special satisfaction and unqiueness no other fetsival does.

At the end of the day, there is always that sadness isn't it? I mean the next one is 365 days away and you really dont know whether you will be able to spend it as grandly as this one. Thats the unpredictability of life ( and part of its charm also). I get this feeling almost every deepavali. Maybe I have this sinking fear that they wud stop bursting crackers from next year onwards. But mainly because of the yearly granularity, every deepavali usually results in a massive change in our lives. Many people whom we assumed to be part of life' background fade away and then we suddenly find after they are gone we don't visit their house (now occupied by their children) anymore. It feels as if the only 'live' link between 'us' and 'them' is gone. A couple of deepavali's I have definetly thought "oh man! they were here last year.. but now..". This day probably more than any other day reveals to us the changing nature of our lives. This deepavali when I went visiting there were at least two moments when I sincerely wished certain people would live a little bit longer to see one more deepavali. Like the way the Indian cricket team moves from kapil dev-gavaskar era to the sachin-kambli-sidhu-azhar era to the sachin-saurav-dravid-yuvraj era. The closely-knit teams with which one celeberates deepavali changes over time. If we compare today with 10 years before, the people who call you and the ones you visit change dramatically. The speed at which we progress(if progress is the word I want to use) towards this certainity has never ceased to scare me. This is one of the days that deserves more than 24 hours. Before going to sleep and the cracker sounds slowly fade away, the only thing anyone can hope for in a rapidly changing world is an unchanged replay of deepavali next year too!


Anonymous said...

Great post! Don't we all want time to stand still? Or, at least move at a pace which we command? There was a great piece by Sujatha on deepavali in one of the recent vikatans. I could identify almost word for word.

I also hated going to the movies on deepavali. How can bursting crackers take a back seat to anything else? The visit to relatives' houses and temple, I enjoyed. There was this great grandma's sister who we used to visit on deepavali. It was sort of re-assuring to see someone who could call my grand father by name and use second person singular with a liberel dosage of "da". I can't explain in what way, but I felt secure.

These days, I don't know if my sisters visit anybody at all on deepavali day. Sad state of affairs indeed, but somehow life goes on.


Anonymous said...

Great post Bharath! Brought tears to my eyes (almost). Wish I could relive those past years of Deepavali.


tilotamma said...

really you don't like Soloman Uncle?

Anonymous said...

Hey Bharath!

I spent my Deepavalis at Srirangam & so much of what u'd written also happens there. I think its universal - Boys scaring girls with pattaasu and the next moment: kayyaala rocket vidrathukku solli kuduppa... Taking the pattaasu to motta maadi - veyyil-la olatharthukku -and zealously safeguarding it against others pattaasu mootai. Inspite of it some get lost and are found in another cousins pattaasu manja pai - riding in a cycle with a cousin to paati aam, amidst all the vedi. Hey u forgot 'paambu muttai'- my favourite (parents' dismay). and the galas during 'Thalai Deepavalis'.....I think the whole concept of joint family or families living along the same street/flat is disappearing today....Wish there was a way to just freeze these moments for our kids. They miss out on the easy companionships & 'simple' joys of life with cousins..especially when they grow up outside india