Celebrating togetherness

The festive season is around the corner.  And no, it has nothing to do with Presidential elections south of the border!  I was thinking of Halloween, Diwali, Christmas and a host of other celebrations that we look forward to, all year.  It is an agonising time for someone like me who has a sweet tooth, but must also keep an eye on the expanding waistline!  While this is an ongoing struggle, it becomes particularly difficult at this time of the year when we celebrate several multi-faith activities and occasions.  Fresh pies at Thanksgiving kicked off the “sweet-fest”!

Most people of Indian origin are aware of Diwali.  It celebrates the homecoming of a mythological king after several years of exile and represents the “victory of good over evil”.  While celebrated widely, it has religious connotations especially for persons of Hindu faith.

I recall celebrating Diwali in the Punjab when I was a young boy.  Weeks before Diwali, small stalls would crop up in the market, specializing in the sales of “patakas” (firecrackers) and “diyas” (clay lamps).  In those days the products were fairly basic as China had not yet started to flood the markets with the very wide range of firecrackers that are now available.  The choices were usually restricted to “bum” (bomb), “phuljhari” (sparkler), “hawaai” (rocket), “charkhi” (a spinning wheel fireworks) and “anaar” (sparkler fire pot) etc.  A cousin, much older than I would start planning our expedition weeks in advance before take us shopping on Diwali day.  His logic was simple: the shopkeepers would offer substantial discounts to get rid of the easily perishable unsold stock, as crackers would become “stale”.  Empty pillow covers would be used to stuff our purchases and transport the patakas home.  Hours would then be spent on sorting and arranging our hoard, while meticulously planning the sequence in which the patakas would be lit, for “maximum effect.”  The idea was not just to get the best bang for our buck literally, but to outlast the neighborhood competition in both sound and duration of firepower display.

And then there were the mountains of sweets.  Like the pataka shops, temporary shacks would spring up outside “halwai” (sweetmeat sellers) shops, local restaurants and other food retailers to sell traditional sweets, dry fruits and an assortment of specialized food items produced for Diwali.  Orders would be placed for large orders of specially packaged boxes of sweets weeks in advance.  Friends, family relations and even corporate colleagues would share gifts ranging from a small, token box of sweets to elaborate hampers made up of choicest dry fruits, imported liquor bottles and other goodies that could boost one’s social standing as a recipient or a provider.  An enterprising aunt decided for health reasons, to discard the sweets and made up small hampers of canned goods and bottles of ketchup etc., that allowed for a longer shelf life.

My family decided to stop giving or accepting festive gifts back in the 1980s and faced a great deal of criticism for being “scrooges.”  My wife and I believed that instead of blowing money up in smoke or spending on gifts most people would repackage and recycle, that we try and make a difference to the life of at least one person.  That was when we sponsored our first child through a specialist non-profit organization.  It was but a small step towards giving back to those that need a helping hand.

As we prepare for our own special occasions at this time, please pause to think of nature’s bounties that could be shared with those not as fortunate, for a true celebration.

“Pyaar ki jot se ghar-ghar hai charaaghaan varna

Ek bhi shammaa naa roshn ho havaa ke dar se”

[(It is) the radiance of love that illumines each dwelling

(Else, if) fearful of the wind not one lamp would stay alight] – Shakeb Jalali

And:

“Mil ke hoti thii kabhi Eid bhi Diwali bhi,

Ab ye haalat hai ke dar dar ke gale milte hain”

[Sometimes Eid and sometimes Diwali we celebrated together

What are these times now when people are scared of embracing the other] – Unknown

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