by Dr. Madhav Prabhu
Diwali the festival of lights is on us and so is the excitement of the festivities to come. Some critics would always find the enthusiasm uncalled for and would indulge in the pollution and wastage conspiracy, but for a person from Belagavi, it is beyond the realms of courts. This is a festival not merely of lights but also of relationships.
Diwali comes immediately after or with Karnataka Rajyotsava where the masses are sharply divided on linguistic issues by politicians, some outsiders expect the fight to continue, but in Belagavi the next day life is back to normal, there is no Kannada or Marathi, there is just the ordinary urban middle class who shares a fence, a job, a house or sometimes a family, with no boundaries of language, our fights are like husbands and wives they end in a day and this is what baffles outsiders who expect a showoff.
We the ordinary Belagavi people enjoy every festival together, a relationship unlike anywhere else in Karnataka or Maharashtra. Apparently, the problem with outsiders is that they fail to identify the bonds that we share through the years which go on for generations, we share our joys and sorrows and even our festivals and these ties are truly remarkable.
The preparation for Diwali start much much before the actual festival and the greatest hurdle is the budget, being predominantly middle class, the budget is really a task to handle for the common Belgaumkar/ Belagavi mansha, you have to allocate for the sweets we call faral in lay terms, for clothes, for coloring homes, for giving bonus, for the lamps and their oil, for the pooja and importantly the body oil, the utna, the akash diva and the taxes which add to this.
Somehow amazingly there is an accountant and a banker who every year manages this without any trouble, well at least they don’t show us their troubles we call them mom and dad. Mom always plans, saves and does everything without an MBA degree in either finance or human relations, how she manages is a subject to investigate in itself. The Diwali discounts are welcome perks but still, the bills always are heavy on our pockets.
There are a few relations that deserve mention here Firstly there is this perfect relationship between brothers and sisters, this is the only relationship where you don’t have to express to be understood.
I have seen brothers send bhaubeez (gift to sisters in Diwali) much before the actual festival itself, all this so their sisters celebrate Diwali, when we see brothers and sisters fight property disputes we forget the sweet bonds that shower love in abundance, I have seen families who wait all year long for the mama to come for Diwali so they could get sweets and new to wear, I have seen mamas taking loans to get help for their sisters and the beloved nephews and nieces. Such a delicate relationship isn’t it something the courts can never touch. Diwali is a celebration of such unconditional love. All this aside, Belagavi has its own customs and rituals.
The preparations start with the making of faral. The faral is not a small affair, here the entire street has experts in different dishes, there is karanji, chiwda, laddoos and so on and so forth, moms who are beyond doubt the best HRs, know how to manage labor, they call their friends and return the favor going to their homes and in so doing the faral is ready in no time, the planning is perfect, there are days pre-decided for each house and all the women help each other, women who are good at cooking get to make the critical ingredients in the dishes, while others have to stick to frying and helping, as apprentice, these women to learn in the process, it is much like a cooking party, you cook, you sing, you gossip and the end result is dabbas full of goodies. Kids also join in and they are allowed to do jobs like folding karanjis or arranging the ready goodies, occasionally savoring a few in between, we kids loved this and we were the first ones to stake our claim on the sweets, kids from middle class know what hunger is and every dish tastes sweet. No doubt this may be the reason Belagavi produces so many foodies, we are raised to do so.
Mom always knows what the right quantity is, she has to cater faral for us, for friends, for sharing with neighbors and for the number of guests visiting us, sharing faral is like an acknowledgment of the bonds we share, we sometimes forget to do so in the struggles of our life. Just like Muslims share biryani we share faral. This is the secular fabric that binds us. Somewhere this bond is weakening and today we buy from shops more than we cook at home, evident by the mushrooming sweet shops all over town.
The kids enjoy Diwali the most. Their Diwali starts with construction of forts, a special practice which is very exciting for the baccha company, little kids from most houses get together and build little forts, there is a scope to learn architecture, defence and warfare here, but its more out of fun, today you also get readymade forts, but tell you what, you can never get the happiness of building one if you buy it from the market. Getting the mud, building the ramparts, planting seeds which grow into small plants and the best part, putting up idols of Shivaji Maharaj and his soldiers feels like we have won a war. There is always an uncle or an elder brother who helps in building a fort, and he is always the favorite of the gang, there is also one sponsor for the idols who will be the best uncle all year long. The feel is as if you are living the history of Maharaj himself.
Once the homes are ready we shop. There is a list always and there are pit stops for all, Ramdev galli, Khadebazar, Kirloskar road are must visit, the list is not simple, the family and their maid would get clothes, the children got the best deals for they had to look good, children are status symbols, the saree for mothers is a must and the shirts for dads, which is least priority; the next and last was the saree for the maid, sometimes the maids are happy with old sarees too, but Diwali, mom always ensures she would get a new one.
The whole year the Malkin blames the maid but in Diwali, there is always a soft corner for her. There is this very essential bedsheet also, needed for the pooja which is on the list. Once this was done we move on to Burud Galli where shopping is done for the lanterns or Akash diva, Chinese diyas are never our first choice, we love our traditional bamboo ones and Burud Galli is the place to find it, it still is and every family has their own artisan, never buy from others and the artisan always keep their part of the deal for regular customers hidden from new ones, another bond developed beyond conventional ones, there are lighting stalls which are of use if you have extra money in your pockets, actually away from the shopping it’s the camaraderie which gives more joy than the lighting of the house.
There is actually a unique bond here, the tradesmen can be of any language but he knows who are his regular customers, the best flowers for a pooja are available at a Muslim florist, the festival brings life to all these relations which make the entire city one big family, something online shopping can never achieve.
Ganapat Galli, Samadevi corner and Bhave chouk are the last stops, usually for the flowers. Oh, and not forgetting the eight to ten slot, we buy firecrackers too for which we do have to go to Ganpat galli and the main market, you can take a turn at Nargundkar Bhave chowk and you will find the original diya makers of Belagavi. The shopping goes on all night and there is no place without a crowd.
Just while all the preparation is taking a toll on you and you are sleepy, tired of the late night shopping, the day arrives and you have to wake up to the occasion, wake up early in the morning, excited for the festivities of the day. Diwali starts at sunrise and starts with the traditional bath, the Abhyangasnan. This has a few pre-requisites, a good body oil, a soap and the scrub we call Utna, for those who can’t afford, utna is replaced with ground dal and the effect is equally good. This is a special day for the family, the mother/ wife applies oil to the body of her dear children and beloved husband, every mom always feels her child has lost weight and so did mine even if I was blown like a balloon. Its one day your wife gives you a nice massage, this may be a compensation for the entire years torture, but then we deserve it for all the efforts taken to ensure our families have a happy festival. The utna is applied last to help remove the oil and then comes the soap. The soap has a special place, it was moti or pears when we were kids, now there are so many and it hardly matters. The massage, however, does not come free and once you are bathed and clothed you will be subjected to an Aukshan(to those confused aarti is for God, aukshan is for humans) where you give your gifts to your better half, the wasuli of the year I guess.
Once this is done we start with the faral, there is a variety of sweets and you just can’t stop yourself from indulging, there is poha as an accompaniment and then tea, at the end of it all you are bloated like a Python after a hunt.
Faral, however, is not just for yourself, you need to share it with your friends, neighbors and even extended family; you can’t digest it otherwise. The most important of the sharing it with your maid. Somehow we never understood why the maid got so much when we were kids, but now we know that our household helps, need it most because their Diwali starts only when ours is over. Even municipal workers make their way for faral and khushali, it’s the occasion we see them atleast once in the year. You know what, these guys work for us all year and Diwali should bring light in their lives too, they are the torch bearers of the swachchata Abhiyan after all. The maid is given faral, saree and cash, something which would sound extravagant but somehow unless mom gave this there would be no Diwali for the poor maid, and moms Diwali would be incomplete, this bond between mothers and the maids is something today’s commercial, the contractual world never understands.
Once faral is done we move to Laxmi pooja. Laxmi is something nobody can refuse, the evening of laxmi pooja is a chance for all the social interaction, as kids, we would visit all the shops we knew and would get pedhas and batashas, we loved these small sweet goodies, we never had taste for kinder joys back then. The pundits of every shop are fixed for generations together and they are the busiest on that day if overburdened by numbers the pundits simply pushes the pooja to padwa and you can relax on Diwali day visiting poojas done by others.
Pooja is an elaborate affair, new sarees, newly married couples, latest ornaments, new cars are all on display on that day and it’s not uncommon to see people competing with each other for whose pooja is best in grandeur. Families come out and exchange pleasantries and the city is on a high with its glitter and chatter. Every street, every household is lit by a million lamps. Most employees in shops and businesses are happy on the day as they receive their annual bonus, it’s that one day when the working class can make a little more added to their budget, this amount can matter so much in some households that Diwali is celebrated on the next day. This practice too in my view is a special bond between an employee and employer. These are things no court has forced or no labor law has governed, it comes from the heart.
Then there is the ritual which again is unique to India, you need to gamble on Diwali, its said that if you gamble on Diwali night you get lucky year long, some do however lose a years worth in a single night and there seems no logic to it, but what the heck it’s Diwali and those winning know it best. The celebrations seem endless and you wish Diwali is never over. You have a festive city, you have friends, you have a family, you have food what else can you ask for.
Diwali starts on the day of Vasubaras and ends on the day the Tulasi in your angan is married, but the entire fortnight keeps everyone busy, there are lights, there are firecrackers, there are sweets, there is music and there is shopping but what’s more important is the little relationships and bonds that form and exist, without language barriers, without caste or class barriers, these bonds are to be recognized, cherished and preserved forever.