A long wait to Diwali

PTI Photo

When we were growing up in Delhi, my brother and I knew the festival of lights as Diwali. We were aware that it was also called Deepavali, but the distinction made no difference. As the heroine of a poignant Shakespearean play demanded, “What’s in a name?” In the mid-60s, we were too young to be familiar with Shakespeare, though as fledgeling philatelists, we owned stamps commemorating the dramatist’s 400th birthday. If we had heard of his lovely Juliet then, we would have agreed that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Diwali and Deepavali sparkled alike, and we eagerly awaited the festival.

This was partly because it came after a long period unmarked by celebrations — we made merry at Christmas and went wild at Holi — then, we were ready for fun with fireworks. The residents of our Armed Forces Colony hailed from various states of the country and enjoyed every festival regardless of creed or community. During Christmas, our house was thrown open to visitors. There were eats in abundance and gifts by the tree. When Holi arrived, our parents submitted to being smeared with colours smilingly, while my brother and I doused people with water-filled guns and balloons. By the end of the day, we were cold, wet and exhausted. Our clothes were ruined and our faces unrecognisable.

“You look like something the cat dragged in,” a neighbour once laughingly remarked. I realised years later that she was idiomatically describing our bedraggled appearance. At the time, however, my brother and I interpreted her words literally.

Since our pet cat Tiddles brought home half-dead mice, we did not care for the comparison. Not that we held the caustic comment against Angela. We liked her. The elderly American did not belong to our circle of defence personnel families but occupied a cottage in the area. Strange-looking, with her shapeless garments and chunky bead necklaces, she was interested in our childish pursuits and understood our fondness for festivals.

“Why don’t you observe the horrors of Halloween?” Angela suggested, in October 1966. Diwali would only arrive in November that year, and she could see that we were getting impatient. We sheepishly admitted that we had not the faintest idea what Halloween was about. When Angela explained, we discussed the possibility of going around dressed as ghosts and witches, muttering ‘trick or treat’. Although we realised, soon after, that we were unlikely to obtain adult endorsement for the enterprise, we were not disheartened. We would not miss the grinning, glowing pumpkin lanterns of Halloween because, in just a few weeks, we would savour the sweets, sights and sounds of the delightful Diwali.

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