Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Before you know it, Diwali is over!

It has been a great Diwali! With the family in Alibag. I'm finding it hard to reconnect to reality....
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror....

                              When the lights come on….
Prathmesh is a tubby little chap, all of fourteen, who sells an array of the most colourful aakash kandeels that come in  myriad shapes and sizes, from a string tied between street lights at a busy traffic intersection in crowded Thakurdwar. This is his improvised ‘shop’ during Diwali. He can barely cope with the demand as eager shoppers buy a dozen or more mini-kandeels for their homes. He digs into an overstuffed leather folder looking for change while two little assistants( aged eight and ten) deal with a long line of regulars who love his personally crafted kandeels. I am one of them. Prathmesh has been at it since he was in class 4! Today, he is in class 10. As I watch him juggling customers and cash without taking his eyes off the precious kandeels swaying in the breeze, I smile at an old memory. Prathmesh was knee high at the time. And not as plump. But he sure as hell knew  how to work that small crowd clamouring for his beautiful lanterns in a street crammed with other lanterns. Prathmesh had obviously figured out years ago that his are better than his competitors’. As they indeed are. Two nights ago, I took my time picking the ones I wanted, and saw him negotiating crisply with a lady asking for the usual discount ( come on…. each pretty  lantern costs twenty bucks…. these little boys have made them!). He grinned broadly when I asked whether he found it difficult to keep a track of the loose change. “Yeh mera business hai! I cannot make a mistake,” was his jaunty reply! What after the tenth grade exam, I asked.  Without looking up from his wallet, he said, “ Science college. Engineering . Then… full time business.”  Wow!
Thakurdwar  has been my beat for decades. I love Girgaum during Diwali… during any festival, for that matter. My annual Diwali ritual has not changed. This is where I go to buy traditional ‘faral’ – crisp and crunchy chaklis, chivda ( two kinds),karanjis, chirotey, anarsey, besan ladoos, kadak boondi ladoos, tikhat shev.  Faral is followed by toran and diyas shopping from one particular pavement seller, who also sells the best body scrub on earth – the Maharashtrian herbal utnay. Heaven knows what goes into that little packet, but it smells divine and your skin glows for at least a week after! Rangoli powders and chakmaki decorations to enhance rangoli designs are carefully selected next. Then comes the final stop -  for strings and strings of fragrant mogras, parijat, jui, champaks, sontakka, jaswanti blossoms. Some are already made into venis that crown neatly coiled nape buns. Others, are woven into gajras that stay wound around the wrist or are carefully tucked into a hair knot, taking care not to crush the delicate petals. It is only Shaku, sitting on a cleared patch of a dirty pavement, just outside the famous Waman Hari Pethe showroom ( a landmark in the area) , who understands the delicate life of the tiny flowers she weaves into gajras and garlands without damaging a single one. Shaku and I have been friends for years. This time, she looked under the weather. Another regular asked her worriedly what was wrong. Shaku smiled, and shrugged off her fever, saying, “It is only high temperature…. cold and cough. It will go eventually. But Diwali won’t come again this year!” Yup. Business first!
Prathmesh and Shaku.Two stories that perfectly capture the spirit of Diwali. That reflect the zest and gutsiness of Mumbai.Two individuals, struggling on filthy footpaths of a busy city without cribbing, complaining or giving in to despair. Prathmesh is sure to make it. And make it big. His bright eyes tell their own story. Shaku is old and tired now. She has lost her teeth. But not her essential joie de vivre. She throws in two extra gajras into my bag… grins and wishes me a ‘ Happy Diwali’, urging me to enjoy my ritual Diwali bath with the utnay  - “ since, of course,we only have one real ‘anghol’ during the year!”
Our Marvelous Mumbai is full of similar stories… stories that revolve around hope and hard work, and the gift to recognize the incredible potential of life in terms that go well beyond material wealth. Perhaps Prathmesh and Shaku   understand the real meaning of the word ‘rich’ far better than some of our city’s billionaires.

Happy Diwali, readers. Let there be light. Not noise!


Suresh Mandan said...

Just wonderful. Why don't you write something like this always, rather than writing about those politicians ,page 3 people and those film celebrities.Why don't people like Shaku do not come up in spite of toiling so hard for so many years?

Someone who cares.. said...

I wholly agree with Suresh ji..this post is nearer to life.

Anonymous said...

Nice write-up, Shobhaa!

Here is something offbeat about Diwali. I had termed it conditional greetings - and had done that last year. Those WERE MY HOPES.

And this year, a couple of days after Diwali, we Indians splurged Rs.500 crores on a rocket that would encircle Mars. All of us patted ourselves on the back. And then some killjoy scientist pointed out this: SOME FOOLISH PEOPLE ARE CRIBBING OVER THIS. BUT WE IN INDIA BLOW UP RS. 5000 CRORES ON DIWALI CRACKERS AND POLLUTE THE AIR. THE SO-CALLED ROCKETS SENT UP DO NOT EVEN GO BEYOND 10 METRES.

I would say that is a great comment, but with one caveat.

I agree that we Indians waste money on crackers.

But what was that rocket to go round the circumference of Mars some 400 km away from the Red Planet? After spending Rs.500 crores, if the rocket completes its job next year's September, we would get a confirmation of what NASA, the Russians and the European missions have already stated! In a nutshell, Indians as a whole waste Rs.5000 crores on nationwide rockets and bangs for nothing. Our clever scientists waste Rs.500 crores on one blast off for nothing!

I hope

This Diwali

Concludes as

A happy occasion

To all those

Celebrating it


The smog

From the gunpowder smoke

Does not cause asthma

The burst crackers’

Falling embers

On their own

Do not trigger

Fatal fires in hutments

Commercial establishments

Trying to sell off their residue stock

Do not burst into flames

By careless acts

Of some smoking joker

Or civic-sense-absent behaviour

Of a neighbourhood establishment

Or home

The revelry does not


Inter-faith quarrels

Morphing into

Communal riots

Celebration drinking bouts

Do not result

Into domestic

And/or local violence

The cracker bursting


In residential



Cheek by jowl

Do not hinder

The hospital-ward journeys

Of cardiac patients

Or pregnant women

Or accident victims

To retain lives

The differences of the gifts’

Monetary values’

Given to near and dear

Do not cause

Fissures in relationships

And hopefully

Humanity realises

Diwali is in the memory

Of an event

That propounds

Hindu religion’s profound philosophy

Divine parents

Krishna and


Had to slay

Their wayward

Cruel son


The festivities of this day

Is a grim reminder

That deeds of any wrongdoer

When crying out for punishment

Ought not to deter

Even parents’ jointly

Awarding the death penalty

On offspring

So that the world at large

Exists peacefully!

Jai Hind!

Anonymous said...

Happy Diwali, this post can make me imagine Mumbai and the colours and sweets of Diwali, although i've never been to Mumbai. Loved this post, very natural and could instantly draw a parallel with Karachi

Cheryllyne said...

What an absolutely beautiful and moving piece, Ms. De. I am homesick and crying here in Minneapolis. Thank you!!!!

NAT said...


Marian Doherty remembers U and Janice.

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