On a Festive High

It’s that time of the year again, where every household is lit up with diyas, cleaned thoroughly to be spick-and-span, and stocked up on firecrackers. It’s almost like the preparation for a beginning of another chapter of life. Yes, the festival of lights has arrived. While the day of the festival is a sight to behold, with rangoli and floral décor beautifying homes and numerous diyas and fireworks immersing the city in lights, prayers and celebratory events bring joy to those involved in the Diwali festivities. Observed by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains across the world, the festival, that coincides with the Hindu New Year, is celebrated for new beginnings, the triumph of good over evil, and light over darkness.

Folklores tell us that Goddess Lakshmi visits each and every house on the night of Diwali and gives her blessings for healthy and prosperous lives. In honour of this most celebrated festivals, You & I shines a spotlight on how different individuals celebrate Diwali in their own distinct ways.      - Sumana

GAME OF CARDS

Diwali is also the season of the quintessential taash parties. While playing teen patti on the day of the festival is considered auspicious, it also gives everyone a chance to try their luck and win some money, just for fun. Hindu mythology tells us that when Goddess Parvati played the game of dice with her husband, Lord Shiva, she enjoyed it so much that she declared that whoever plays the dice on this particular day shall prosper throughout the year!

Gradually, dice were replaced by cards, and people began organising card parties either at home or at an outside venue. Friends and relatives get together and play harmless games, with lower stakes. Since card parties are hosted (ahead of time) to invite good fortune and prosperity, the trend today ranges anywhere from arranging customised invites and fancy canapés to quirky return gifts. They certainly are swanky and elaborate affairs these days!

Megha Malik

A jeweller by passion and a mother of two little “munchkins,” Megha Malik is the owner of RESA Fine Jewellery, an international brand that specialises in making traditional jewellery look contemporary and giving it antique and classic cuts. For her, Diwali is a colourful celebration with her family, and since her daughters love it because they get to decorate the house, it’s her most grand celebration of the year with them.

Apart from following the traditions of the festival, Megha also enjoys playing cards. She shares, “I just love playing cards with friends, and we all end up having a good time together.” She plays all types of card games, and is quite good at all of them. “I’m telling you, it’s really hard to win against me in cards! What’s her favourite game? “Teen patti, for sure, it’s fun!”

Megha first learned to play cards from her grand-mom, and that too very early in life. “I guess I was born to be a master in this!” she says smugly. Recalling her wins so far, she says, “Umm… I have a lot big wins! But yes, there’s a funny one I have to share. I won a game against my husband this one time, and I was so thrilled that I began making plans to spend all of it on shopping. But you know how they say ‘You can’t plan something when you have kids’? That’s exactly what happened. My kids were really small back then, and tore a few of those notes, believing them to be paper!”

Gopika Midha

A fashion designer with a strong belief in being independent and finding passion in what she does, Gopika Midha has won accolades for her creativity in the world of fashion and glamour.  Also a family-oriented person, Gopika looks forward to celebrating Diwali with her near and dear ones, as the festival holds a special place in her heart. For her, Diwali is about the immense love and happiness that’s shared with everyone. Every year, she gives back in whatever way she can, along with the support of her family. This year she plans to help orphaned children with necessities like books and food that will help them make a better future.

Ask her what excites her most during Diwali, and pat comes the reply, “Cards! Card parties with friends and family start a month in advance. I play flash and poker; they’re my favourites. I hope I get lucky this Diwali season too… I have my fingers crossed!” She says that flash, with lots of exciting variations, gives her a kick. “It is very exhilarating, and winning a hand depends on luck; this moves me to play.” When did she first learn to play cards? And who taught her? “I first learnt cards when I was in college and my dad taught me how to play,” she says. “The best win I can recall is during the Diwali year before last. I was at a card party at my friend’s place and the pot was Rs 45,000. Luck favoured me, and it unveiled the trail of aces!”

SAFE AND (NO) SOUND!

See, back in the day, awareness of the dangers of firecrackers was not high. But today there are more widespread concerns regarding safety and environmental pollution. On the days following Diwali, the particulate matter in the air is unusually high, which can lead to some serious health issues. So for those fanatics who just can’t keep away from bursting crackers, you can opt for eco-friendly varieties that are made with recycled paper. They emit less smoke, produce sound within reasonable noise limits (125 dB to 145 db) and also produce more light. The festival can be better enjoyed if the use of potassium chlorate products is avoided. Isn’t our environment too fragile to cause it further damage?

Anita Arya

Anita Arya, owner of Kyra Beauty Lounge, is a renowned cosmetologist who strives to bring about a positive transformation with her top-of-the-line treatments in aesthetic dermatology and cosmetology for skin and hair. With over 20 years of experience in the industry and considerable international exposure, Anita has been helping her customers with effective treatments for all their skin- and hair-related issues.

To Anita, Diwali means lights, joy, and get-togethers with family and friends. She simply loves lighting her house with diyas, throwing a good party at her place, and having a great time with loved ones. Giving her views on celebrating the festival in an eco-friendly manner, she suggests, “Diwali should strictly be eco-friendly. Culture and tradition never advises us to burn crackers and create more pollution. There is already too much pollution, and I believe that crackers should be completely banned. Instead of wasting money on crackers, people should rather help those less fortunate in every way possible. In fact, when my kids asked for crackers this one time, I gave them money and asked them to burn it rather than buying the firecrackers. They got the point, and it’s been 15 years since we have burned a single firecracker on Diwali.”

When asked what measures one can take to have a safe and sustainable Diwali, Anita says, “One should just enjoy by spending good time with family and friends. The only unsafe thing about Diwali is the firecrackers! You can avoid that by staying indoors, as the pollution it creates is very poisonous for health.”

Fatima Agarkar

An educator, co-founder of KA EduAssociate, and mother to a 13-year-old, Fatima Agarkar started off in the corporate world as a banker, only to realise that education was her calling. Passionate about revolutionising the teaching-learning process, the state and university topper was among the top 50 young educators in 2014, and also received awards for outstanding contribution to education in 2013 and 2015.

Diwali festivities are something she looks forward to every year. When the whole city transforms into one beautiful world of lights, and families come together, that’s happiness for Fatima. Her opinion on eco-friendly Diwali is quite simple. Although on the one hand there’s culture and tradition, on the other, there’s living responsibly. And the best way to celebrate the festival is by opting for the latter. “We don’t have a choice but to be more responsible, considering what we have done to our environment!” she says. “Eco-friendly is the way to go; traditions are not rituals. Traditions are about feelings and memories. And evolution bears testimony to the fact that these will need to change if we are to leave a safer future for our children and the generations to come.”

“Some sustainable ways to go about the Diwali celebrations are replacing fireworks with rangoli and diyas, reusing the same items that were used last year, and using natural products that are biodegradable,” she suggests.

FOR THE THRILL OF GIFTING

Apart from firecrackers, diyas, Lakshmi puja, scrumptious food, and cards parties, Diwali is about exchanging gifts. Gifting is a Diwali tradition in many families, both in India and abroad. If you haven’t already picked up gifts for your near and dear, you had better get going. Selecting even a single gift from all the sweets, dry fruits, apparel, silver and other decor items is no easy task!

The popular tradition of exchanging gifts on Diwali began when, in olden days, people exchanged homemade sweets, farm produce, or handcrafted decorative items among themselves on the occasion. These presents were considered a token of love and good wishes. Even now, exchanging gifts is a way of conveying love, thankfulness, respect, appreciation, and a sense of belonging.

Suman Bajaj

British born and educated, designer Suman Bajaj recently celebrated 12 years of success in India. Moving from London to Delhi, the city resident had seldom visited Delhi before exploring her passion for design – sarees in particular. The designer came to India on an assignment when she met her husband. From that day on, she never looked back; her gamble on love paid off!

She holds a soft spot for Diwali, as it allows her to be creative and develop a festive saree collection. It also gives her an excuse to eat as many sweets as her heart desires. She jokingly says, “It also fulfils my OCD for cleanliness, as our home gets whitewashed during this time.” She “simply loves seeing the streets and homes alight with fairy lights” and says the sound of the aarti always takes her back to childhood. For Suman, Diwali is about honouring cultural values and festivities, and she considers exchanging favours during this time asboth tradition and a form
of celebration.

A concept that began as a tradition with an exchange of sweets and savouries, has grown into a celebration where exchanging favours with friends and other extended relatives is a norm. The best favour she’s received or given so far is personalising her Diwali gifts. “I love creating small hampers of tea and chocolates, biscuits and other yummy baked goods, with a surprise in the bottom: a gift voucher or handwritten note, customising my gifts to suit the receiver. Diwali is all about light, so this year, I intend to give the gift of sight for those who need it, by donating money in each of my friend’s names. It’s like giving the opportunity to see the light and step out of the dark,” she concludes.

 

Kazem and Christine Samandari

Up next is the enterprising couple – Christine and Kazem Samandari. Christine is a sociologist and anthropologist who has directed educational, social, and humanitarian programmes across Europe as head of the European and Francophone branch of the Bahá’í International Community’s Office of Public Information, in Paris, France. Kazem, a trained engineer, has over 40 years of professional and entrepreneurial experience, and has worked in over 60 countries across the globe. He has held executive positions in high-tech companies and started several ventures in Africa, Europe, and Asia. They say, “We have lived most of our lives in France and Switzerland, and have made India our home for the last 10 years. We love different cultures and traditions, arts and music, as well as interactions with fellow human beings who share our values and ideals.”

The couple, who have two children, Caroline and Laurent, and two grandchildren, Olivier and Clara, have been knighted by the French government in the prestigious “National Order of Merit”. They currently manage their latest venture, L’Opéra Salon de Thé, the renowned French bakery, patisserie, and chain, which they co-founded with their son Laurent.

While they never really had the chance to celebrate Diwali during their early days together, after moving to India, they try to have a company celebration at L’Opéra in Delhi. “Observing some of the fireworks – albeit from far – is definitely in order. Also, we attend a few Diwali parties at some friends’ houses and host some get-togethers, too.” They add, “Being in the F&B business, Diwali is one of our busiest times of the year.”

While on the topic, they continue by telling us about what they gift their near and dear ones during the festival. “Our favourite gift that we’ve given is probably L’Opéra’s ‘La Boîte Gourmande’ luxury box, with around a dozen biscuits, teas, and preserves in inescapably French packaging. This year, we have prepared a wonderful surprise for family and friends, a limited edition of nine, specially crafted, Indian-flavoured macaroons.”

“Favours are definitely deeply embedded in the culture. This also means that many may do it blindly or simply follow what others are doing. But others may still consider gift-giving as a celebration of friendship and family. In any case, having a variety of intentions, approaches, and gifts only enriches the holiday even further,” they conclude.

Archana Goenka

Archana Goenka is the academic director of the Goenka Group of Schools, After completing high school, she did her graduation in Commerce and earned a diploma in Fashion Designing simultaneously. Archana is known to have an inquisitive psyche and ardent personality. With an inclination towards human behaviour, she pursued a course in human resources and personal counselling. Since she observed the loops in the education system early on, she made a decision to form the group. Her understanding and analytical skills about the desiderata of this field helped her further.

Being in the education sector for the past 15 years, Archana indulges in anything that can help her explore her creativity. For her, Diwali is celebrated to kindle the light of wisdom in every heart. “Life has many facets and stages. It is important that we throw light on all of them, for if one aspect of our life is in darkness, we cannot express life in its totality. The rows of lamps lit on Diwali remind us that every aspect of life needs our attention,” she explains.

Speaking about Diwali favours in particular, Archana says that Diwali is also about exchanging sweets and gifts. “Yes, Diwali is a time when we remember all our relatives and friends, and send them some dry fruits or savouries as part of the celebrations. This is also a way of dropping regrets, bickering, and the negativities of the past, and subsequently building relationships for the times to come. A true celebration means dissolving all differences and spreading happiness and wisdom in society.”

“This Diwali, I plan to give unique gifts to my friends and family, including staff and other helpers of the house. Secondly, as part of CSR – since our schools support various causes and organisations – I will be sending them a card with a request to take time out to celebrate the festival at either an old-age home or a shelter where street children are housed. I have done this in the past and nothing is more satisfying than spending time with those less fortunate, distributing sweets and clothes, and organising some games or an outing,” Archana concludes with a sense of contentment.

SWEET, SWEET MEMORIES

There’s no denying that Diwali is the most awaited festival in our country. While a typical Diwali usually includes fireworks, Lakshmi puja, and delectable sweets and savouries, it meant all this and so much more when you were young. Your childhood Diwali will remain special for you, no matter how grown up you are! Back in the day, the festival would begin with hoarding firecrackers by the kilo and burning them starting from choti Diwali itself. Dressing up and looking prim and proper to meet relatives was a fun start to the evening. Lakshmi puja was not as important as, perhaps, meeting friends and scheming about what to do with the patakas. Some even lit a long row of firecrackers stretching from the house all the way to the colony’s gate! Even as the day ended, you never really had withdrawal symptoms, as the fireworks lasted a few days.

If this picture brings back your childhood Diwali memories, here a few socialites share their own!

Madhu Singh 

An entrepreneur, athlete, sportsperson, model, theatre actor, and philanthropist, Madhu Singh’s favourite festival is Diwali. She prepares for the festival months well ahead of time, selecting gifts, redecorating the house, and organising family get-togethers. She shares that she’s absolutely happiest during this period.

Managing Director of Perch Residences Pvt Ltd, Madhu comes from the small town of Bulandshahr in UP, and belongs to a family of army officers. With a keen interest in sports, she began playing golf at the age of 40, and in 2013, she won the All India 7th Army Ladies Open! While most retire at the age of 60, she started CrossFit training in 2017 and also stood first from the Indian region in the CrossFit Open (60+ category), and fifth across Asia. Madhu joined hands with her uncle, Virendra Singh, to set up a philanthropic NGO by the name Pardada Pardadi, which provides vocational training to young girls to help them become more self-reliant.

Speaking about how she spent Diwali during her childhood, she shares, “Diwali was larger than life, and was something that we looked forward to dearly. Our house was filled with sweets, crackers, flowers, and new clothes, new Lakshmi Ganeshji Kheel, Batashas, and earthen diyas! Schools were closed for at least a week and we celebrated the festival in two parts: pre and post. The former was for placing diyas and rangoli around the house, and the latter was dedicated to collecting leftover wax from the half-burnt candles and reusing them to make different shapes.”

“I have an elder brother and a younger sister. And just about a month before Diwali, we used to start buying crackers from our pocket money and store them away in a suitcase, which we called ‘patako ki dunia.’ The owner of this suitcase was our elder brother, who invariably got the majority of the crackers and we would be left with only a few!”