Sunday, November 19, 2017
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diwali chinese lights

Once again  the Festival of Lights has arrived with all its color, lights, sweets and abundant joy; and I wish all of you the brightest ever Deepawali.  At the same time  I cannot help thinking of the beautiful but simple diwalis we spent in our childhood when the present , modern gadgetry was not there to dazzle and deafen us. It used to be a festival of genuine participation.

There was no question of setting up Chinese lights or their Indian counterparts to instantly illuminate the premises as is so easily done now. In those days Diwali was an eagerly-awaited festival for which preparations were made in advance. There was no such thing as ‘instant Diwali’ – on borrowed lights. From ‘Diyas’ to ‘Chinese bulbs’ ! Is that a rise or a fall? Or is it rise in technology and fall in conventions?Decades ago,  planning used to begin several days in advance. Diwali meant Diya then and not bulbs. And to think of it how happy we used to feel when our elders would say, ‘Bring 500 diyas from the market. Take a few big ones for the  Puja but the rest should be of the medium size’. Those earthen lamps were freely available. You could see piles and piles of them at every corner. After that, these earthen diyas were soaked in water for quite some time. Why was that done ? I would ask my elders. They would say, ‘If this is not done the diya would absorb plenty of oil’. The next thing one would see is the  women folk making wicks out of the cotton that was of cheap variety. They would take out a piece of cotton, then turn and twirl it on their palms and the wicks would be ready. We children would also help in the process.  Today when you think of that you can imagine the mass participation in the preparations for the festival . It would be difficult to imagine today all that fun we would have in that joint participation of all members of the household and even neighbors. It used to be quite a time-consuming affair. But we would give undivided attention to complete the task because there was no diversion, no side attraction to distract us. Everything was being done for the final day. There was no call from someone, ‘Look, turn on the TV as I don’t want to miss the ‘ Balika Badhu’’ serial or ‘ Jodha Akbar’’  because there was no TV then. The entertainment was planned by us and it as not forced on us by the TV channels.

In those days the buildings – specially the bunglows—used to be very big. One had to go up on the roof. Several of us would simultaneously start placing the diyas decoratively. Each one was allotted particular space on the roof which he or she had to decorate with the diyas. And as soon as darkness set in, all youngsters would rush simultaneously to the roof and start lighting the tapers. In no time all the diyas would start emitting light, turning the building into a decorative, illuminated piece. Downstairs, on the windows and near doors the ladies would place the diyas. I recall the song that used to be very popular, ‘Diwali phir aa gai sajni, deep se deep jalaa le’ The song reveals the methodology that was followed. One ‘deep’ was made the lighter and with its help all other deeps would be lighted. That way one  did not have to strike a match stick for lighting each diya.

I don’t know whether we have those match-boxes now. But in those days there used to be special match-boxes for children. When they lighted the match stick, it would give colored flame. It was so safe for children to do that. Phuljharis (sparklers) and ‘Anaars’ were also very popular as they would light up the dark atmosphere. They used to leave behind smoke no doubt. But the smoke would soon clear off. The boys would go after crackers. There used to be two types all knitted together. The smaller ones were called ‘larris’. Each one in the cluster would be about an inch long, very thin. Some youngsters would pluck one of them from the bunch and enjoy cracking them. But some others, out of sheer mischief, would tie one larri to the tail of a dog and then light it. The dog would run in fright. Even today you find dogs looking for shelter to escape the cracker noise that frightens them. Then there used to be a cluster of bigger crackers – ten in one. Those had to be blasted one by one. The ‘Atishbaazi’ was very popular. But the thriller was the Big Bomb – a cracker of high-intensity sound. It created a deafening noise when blasted. There used to be crude crackers too. These were marbled-shaped—double the size of a Kancha –which were packed with explosive powder.  All that a reveller did was to blast it by hurling it hard against a wall or hitting a target from a distance. Later on it was misused by rioters. I am told that mini-bombs , more lethal and damaging, were made of the same size balls to appear as  harmless crackers and were used during the communal trouble. The manufacture of these  ‘mini-ping pong balls’  was banned.

As time passed, emphasis shifted from diyas to candles. These were neater and one did not have to make much of preparations.  Candles were available in different sizes. The very big ones were reserved for the entry gate and the medium size ones were put on the roofs. Gradually the  size of the roofs too decreased so that illuminating them with candles  became easier. I recall one of my elder brothers telling us, ‘You will not have to do all this as I visualize that one day all that you will have to do is to just put on a switch and the whole premises would be illuminated’. How true!

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