As a kid I remember pressing my face eagerly against the grills of my bedroom window and waiting for the much awaited 'Mani thatha' two days before Diwali. To me, catching sight of the short, white-haired man, in a white dhoti and a weird shirt that had a diagonal pocket just above the stomach and his paan stained mouth was the pint-sized arrival of Diwali. He'd have a towel on one shoulder and on the other a wrapped parcel that looked like an AK-47 rifle, but was actually a giant ladle with holes for frying. He was the quintessential sweet maker of our family. For the next 24 hours he'd be closeted in our backyard shed churning out trays and trays of mouth-watering laddoos, jaangris, Mysore pak, mixture and finally the yummy lehyam in a makeshift stove. I remember he used to sit up all night making them while singing durbari kaanada. I associate Diwali so much with him for the 'sweetness' he bought to us.
Those were days when we used to get new clothes only twice a year, one for the birthday and one for Diwali. And it was always traditional attire of pattu pavadai chosen by the entire family for Diwali. I still remember each and every colour of my pavadais.
On Diwali day all of us used to be up at the crack of dawn thanks to the nadaswaram music my pati used to switch on. She used to then make all us kids sit in a row and apply nallenai (oil) on our heads. I still remember the jingle of her bangles as she massaged the potent oil gently on our heads. Then came the famous Ganga snaanam, with the warm water from the giant brass vessel, with vaasanai podi. Mom used to go extra hard on the dreaded siyakai podi (that used to make our eyes burn) to remove the oil from our head followed by the sambrani smoke to dry our hair.
The anticipation of new clothes used to make us so edgy as we patiently waited for my thatha to hand over our clothes stacked in our Pooja room the previous night. I remember wearing my new pattu pavadai and doing namaskarams to my elders at the same time being careful not to dirty my new dress.i had to make this one last. I remember going round and round in my new pavadai as it twirled around me in a riot of colours. The sheer joy and thrill of wearing something new!
Crackers, although I was petrified of them, was always a massive group affair. The entire street, the entire neighbourhood, the entire clan. I couldn't remember if their laughter was louder or the sound of the crackers was. I lost count of the number of people who sat down for the Diwali feast and the number of items that used to be served on a banana leaf.
Diwali was incomplete without the ritualistic visiting of relatives with a dabba of sweets.
I was surrounded by and smothered in love! Whether it was in the way my pati plaited my hair, or the way my mother decked it with flowers, or the way us cousins used to run around the house lighting diyas, or in the crispness of the vadais at lunch or filling the giant rangoli outside our home with colours, or in the way my thatha used to just stand there in the landing of the staircase with a walking stick, smelling of sandalwood paste and Vibhuti inspecting it all...I remember just being happy, content and at peace! Never looking beyond, never asking for more.
There is so much comfort in familiarity they say. Nothing again could be more true! As I look back with nostalgia during Diwali I feel happy for what I had and what is etched as an indelible part of my childhood. I sigh as i light a lone diya and not sure where to place it in the concrete jungle. I look down suspiciously and take a bite of the sugar-free, fat-free whatever given by my neighbours now for Diwali and think - God has temporarily taken a break from the small things as He is busy attending to the big things. Certain things in life are indeed priceless. In my case, my memories of Diwali ...