By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
There was no breeze to disturb one this time round, and a great warmth spread within as the line of diyas with their steady yellow flames lengthened. One could almost see Sitamata and Ram Bhagavan walking into lit-up Ayodhya. Just to imagine that that little gesture one was performing – putting the oil in the diya, inserting the wick, lighting it up, laying the diyas – was exactly as was being done thousands of years ago: what wonder!
Deepavali, contracted to Divali, was the one festival that as kids we looked forward to with great excitement. That hasn’t changed as we have grown up, and every Divali is awaited with the same passion which, indeed, increases as the big day approaches.
Starting last Friday, with the possibility of a cyclone in the region the weather turned foul. As the weekend rolled on, rain and wind set in. Saturday was pretty wet in Curepipe, and on Sunday it was practically the whole island that got soaked.
It had rained during the night, and in the morning we woke up to an overcast sky. By midday the clouds had darkened and the drizzle had become a continuous, stronger rainfall, accompanied by a drop in the temperature. There was hardly any improvement during the rest of the day and the evening too. We went to bed with apprehensions about what would happen on Divali day, barely 48 hours away.
But next morning, Monday, started well. It looked like the cyclone had decided not to play spoilsport. The day cleared and became brighter, and our spirits lifted as we became confident that the next day would be fine and would allow us to enjoy Divali without hindrance. And that is what in fact happened.
Womenfolk who are employed – and nowadays this means most of them of working age – are impatient to reach home in the afternoon, to get going with the preparation of the sweetmeats that Divali is known for, besides of course the lights. Modernity has not changed the fact that, at least in Mauritius, some sweets at least must be made at home, because they are used as offerings during the evening puja. Formerly, the distribution of sweets was restricted to relatives and friends living in the proximate neighbourhood, as most people did not have cars and one had to walk or at times use the bicycle.
I suspect that it was towards the middle and late 1980s, in the wake of our second industrialization and other social changes that brought about more prosperity and ease, that the habit of buying sweets started to spread. This had to also await the setting up of outlets that engaged in this relatively new business, and they have become more numerous, and make a variety of mithais that require a wider know-how. It has therefore become commonplace to buy sweets for both personal consumption as well as to share with relatives and friends.
It goes without saying that the social circles have widened, in parallel with the advent of cars within families. This means that the distribution of sweets is no longer confined to the immediate neighbourhood, and one has to plan ahead to complete this so as to be home in time for the evening puja and to start with the lighting. Inevitably, this too has modernised, and the traditional earthenware diyas are now supplemented by electric lights which come in a bewildering variety.
The services of skilled electricians may have to be called upon if one wants to have more complicated and elaborate arrangements, but suffice it to say that there are enough varieties of lights to satisfy every purse. Mostly, it is the children who guide parents’ choices, depending of course upon means as well! But light is light, and any combination and any amount gives as much joy as the most dazzling display once one gets into the mood. Sparklers and firecrackers have also become part of the celebrations, adding to the excitement and the enjoyment.
Gradually, it is the older children upon whom falls the responsibility of making the round of sweets and arranging for the lighting, a natural handing over as parents retreat into the quieter role of holding the fort at home with the grandchildren if any, and receiving the stream of visitors who will come to leave the sweets. It will be very late in the night when one will finally go to bed, tired but happy.
That feeling starts days before the actual Divali day, and keeps growing to reach a crescendo as we begin to light up the diyas. There was no breeze to disturb one this time round, and a great warmth spread within as the line of diyas with their steady yellow flames lengthened. One could almost see Sitamata and Ram Bhagavan walking into lit-up Ayodhya. Just to imagine that that little gesture one was performing – putting the oil in the diya, inserting the wick, lighting it up, laying the diyas – was exactly as was being done thousands of years ago: what wonder!
It is that feeling of connectedness to this millennial tradition and the lightness of being that overcomes one as Divali draws to a close that lingers on even as we begin the routine of the next day, no doubt making it more bearable that it otherwise might be. If we manage to make that spirit of Divali prevail in our daily life, we will make it that much richer and meaningful. And each Divali will only add to that!
* Published in print edition on 16 November 2012