The big fat Indian Diwali

Recently, I was amused to hear that a ‘modern’ woman was heckled by her WhatsApp buddies for daring to enjoy traditional Karwa Chauth celebrations. They insisted that the likes of Karan Johar and Ekta Kapoor had aggrandised these festivals to such heights of vulgarity that they had lost all meaning.

True, the saccharine sickliness of TV rejoicings needs a reality check. The cloying TV Rakshabandhan, for instance, is a far cry from a real bro-sis relationship where you yell, fight, want to kill each other, yet share the last bit of barfi; never saying how much you mean to each other. Ditto for every other festival where you simply have fun in your own peculiar way.

Take Diwali – the one festival with pan-India popularity. It binds us all, yet celebrates our diverse flavours. Maharashtrians wake at dawn. Every family member is given a perfumed-oil massage, and then blessed with an aarti. This is done to evoke/acknowledge the godliness in everyone. One feels deliciously warm in the family bosom, when it’s cold and dark outside. The Lakshmi Puja after sunset is a traditional family affair, and if anyone happens to be visiting, they are welcome to join.

A Punjabi Diwali, on the other hand, is more visible. Sweets in amounts that cannot humanly be consumed are piled up in homes. Gambling parties are the order of the day. Television, naturally, prefers the more visible. Girls display washboard abs in expensive lehengas while daintily carrying a thali full of rangoli or flowers; men strut in patterned silkbandhgala coats; the mother-in-law, her ample forms swathed in silks, drips jewels and the father-in-law placidly surveys the scene or tries to steal a laddoo while the daughter-in-law indulgently gives him a sugar-free one (and displays the brand prominently). Every serial, every channel, the same story.

Cut to real life: Household decoration and preparation doesn’t get magically done, the members have to do a lot more than gracefully sashay in and out with a silver thali.

The huge joint family is seldom together. The spontaneous-but-perfectly-choreographed group dances don’t usually happen. Many couples head out for a holiday with their kids to Goa, while their parents watch ideal families enjoying Diwali on the flickering tube.

Realistic diwali

Related reading: Diwali Yamadeepdaan | A Celebration Of Love & Partnership

Advertisements also create some unrealistic expectations. An ad for a computer that allows Bhoomi Pednekar to run two programs – a business proposal and a laddoo recipe – shows her mock-ordering her screen husband to get on with theladdoo making. Later she laughingly joins him. The complete ad aired a few times and I thought to myself, “Here go the young girls dreaming that they are going to have this cosy little Diwali with a completely ego-free, undemanding man.” I think the channel thought the same. Now the ad is clipped to carefully exclude the portion where she tells him to ‘chalo, laddoo banao!’

Then there is the commercialisation! Diwali has traditionally been a time of new purchases and investments. So anyone who has anything to sell, opens shop.

The person of average intelligence is persuaded quite easily into buying a lot more than he needs or even wants, partying in a manner he would perhaps rather not, dressing according to TV fashion and overstuffing himself.

The most horrible aspect is kids waiting for TV-like surprises that the parents may not be able to afford.

There is an up side, too, though. I have seen a staunch Christian mom bow down before her daughters’ desire to burst crackers and have Diwali sweets. Her “It’s not OUR festival” was completely disregarded by the tweens. They wanted to celebrate Diwali the TV way – with family and friends.

Related reading: When his in-laws showed him the true soul of Diwali

Some ads also enjoin upon us to be human (no, not the t-shirt brand). This is Mita Vashist telling us, and her dhobi, that no one wears old clothes on Diwali. She walks the talk and gifts him and his son new clothes. How much impact this will make on our caste-ridden society remains to be seen.

But one last word, you TV guys. Could we see some other Indian sweets apart from the motichoor laddoo with chandi ka warak?

Do Karwa Chauth expectations stress out husbands?

My wife had a magic trick which helped her win over her sister-in-law


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