<%-- Page Title--%> Reflections <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 128 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

October 31, 2003

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Diwali in Dhaka

A Time for Joy

Kavita Charanji

I was back home in Dhaka just in time to celebrate Diwali with old friends. It was time again to clean up the house till it is speckless; time for playing cards, buying Diwali gifts, exquisite diyas and candles from Aarong; for gorging on sweetmeats and dry fruit. And most of all it's a time of exhilaration for children as they splurge on firecrackers -- anars, rockets, sparklers.

As happens every year, the Dhaka Indian women's Organisation (DIWA) organised a Diwali Mela prior to the big day on October 25. Young Indian children put up a delightful skit with a scene from the Ramayana (the epic which depicts the victory of Prince Ram over the ten-headed demon king Ravana and the rescue of his wife Sita from the clutches the evil king). Diwali is celebrated every year to mark the return of Ram, Sita and Lakshman (Ram's brother) from 14-years of exile and their return to their kingdom of Ayodhya. The ladies also performed the Ganesh Vandana, an invocation to Ganesh, the elephant God. Another highlight of the evening was the rendering of the rumbustious Punjabi folk dance, called the Gidda.

The big day dawned early for most Indians, despite the endless rounds of parties and cards (flush, a popular Diwali card game). Gifts were exchanged among friends, children were excited and the grown ups in Dhaka were equally in a festive mood. Come evening and houses were lit up brightly with sparkling lights, which could catch the eyes of neighbours and devotees performed the Lakshmi Puja to win the favour of the goddess of wealth.

Back in New Delhi, my hometown, the newspapers were full of write-ups on Diwali. In an evocative piece last year in the daily Indian Express, Renuka Narayanan, a wellknown columnist, recounted her experiences of the Festival of Lights. To quote Renuka: “Diwali has the power to renew our spirit and give us the mental energy to carry on. I saw a gallant example of this in Mumbai: a beggar carefully lit a single diya to illumine his patch of pavement. Equally powerful is the memory of Hardwar of a gaunt, dusty farmer setting a solitary diya afloat on the Ganga. It was a heart-stopping scene. He was so reverent, yet dignified --what pain and hardship did he want the Mother River to heal? Or perhaps he gave thanks? Who won't feel weepy at such sights?”

At these times I cannot help reminiscing my own Diwalis during my younger days, the memories of tucking away a grand sum of Rs 10 to buy snake tablets (which transform into snake-like figures), buying spanking new clothes for the big day, bursting hand bombs with friends, lighting the diyas and candles with sparklers called phuljaris, scaring the neighbourhood dogs with loud bombs and rockets and feasting on laddoos and dry fruit. I was invariably lucky at cards and managed to make a tidy sum at the game of flush.

Now Diwali is more sober in New Delhi. Though there is ostentatious spending in some quarters, on the whole it is a more subdued occasion -- largely due to the efforts of Indian NGOs which have raised public awareness on the child labour-centred fireworks industry in South India. Yet, the fire engines are on alert, as there are invariable fires in some pockets of the city.

And now that Diwali is over, there's still so much to look forward to -- Eid, Christmas and New Year. Who said the party's over?



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