Sunday, November 03, 2013

Diwali Night

As I type this,whooshes and explosions surround me on all sides.The windows periodically light up with different colours. Any non-Indian would probably think I'm in a war-zone. But it's just Diwali in Bangalore.

I didn't think much of Diwali when I was a kid. Unlike today, we didn't have too many varieties of fire-crackers back then. There were the the usual sparklers in white and red and green, and there were the chakrams (wheels) and the conical thing that goes whoosh into the air with a lot of light, I can't remember the name of it. If we were lucky, there would be one or two rockets, and a big red malappadakkam, which was scary. These would be saved till the end, and only one of the grown-ups was allowed to light them.

When we became a little older, we decided that crackers were for kids, and stopped pestering our parents to buy them. I think this was also the time the Sivakasi child labour aspect gained publicity, so that may have played a part. And so Diwali became just another holiday for us - no crackers or lights or anything. It helped that we Malayalis don't celebrate Diwali in any case. We have no puja or sweets associated with Diwali.

It wasn't until we moved to Delhi that I realized how big Diwali actually is as a festival. Our first Diwali there, we went up to the roof of the house to see the fireworks. Flowers of light bloomed all around us. Rockets went up into the sky with a whoosh and exploded. Below us, our neighbours lit sparklers wished each other. And then it hit me, in a way it had never hit me before, that the ENTIRE CITY was celebrating that night. Young and old, rich and poor, everybody could see and enjoy these lights.

I didn't think much of it back then, but apparently there is a reason that Malayalis don't celebrate Diwali. Somebody told me once that it's because Diwali is associated with Rama's victory over Ravana. Apparently we Malayalis identify more with Ravana than with Rama. But that didn't make much sense to me. Why would we identify with a Sri Lankan king?

The story I heard recently makes more sense. Apparently, Vamana vanquished our beloved King Mahabali on Diwali day. For us, it's less about the victory of some North Indian king over some Sri Lankan king, and more about our own king being sent underground, poor guy.

But Diwali seems to be spreading south as well, if how Bangalore is tonight is any indication. Maybe it's the number of North Indians here, or maybe it's the fact that it's such a fun festival, but Bangalore tonight reminds me of that first Diwali night in Delhi long ago.
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