More than two decades ago, I remember the first time that we splurged on buying Deepavali crackers. My mother took us to a place near her office that sold fireworks in bulk. And, I think, we spent about 1000 Rupees that day. Until then, there was a small bag that would house the entire collection for my parents, my brother and I. A couple of boxes of spinning discs, a few boxes of sparklers and some strips of ‘bombs’. For building up the anticipation, we would get a few tiny boxes of ‘roll caps’ that fit into toy guns and carefully rationed them in the week leading up to the festival. Our old grand aunt insisted that she could only celebrate using the small ‘snake pellets’ that let our dark ropes of ash. There was no bang, colour, or fire, just a steady hiss as the small tablet sizzled under the fire of a matchstick and spewed out a ‘snake’. “That’s enough for me,” she would say and walk away.
The variety didn’t change much, and still, I remember the eager bubbles in my heart every time Deepavali neared. The night before Deepavali was special because we started using the various coloured sparklers and spinners. Our parents would join the celebration because even the most hard working person relaxed on the night before Deepavali.
The highlight of the evening, though was the arrival of one of our neighbours. This uncle reserved his one or two unusual firecrackers for the last – flower pots that shot up colourful rockets or fireworks that looked like they were showering colourful bouquets into the clear dark sky. The entire event was over in less than five minutes. Yet, I can remember how much we looked forward to the variety and how wonderous the sight seemed.
With time, the bag of crackers and the budget for them grew larger. The sky became less dark, and not as clear. Two years ago, though, I discovered a beautiful tradition on campus – releasing paper lanterns to celebrate the festival of lights. I saw these delicate wisps of paper, carefully engineered to carry a lamp, slowly being allowed to waft away in the breeze, across the Brahmaputra. In the cool night air of November, I felt a very simple joy.
So, if you are looking for a way to preserve the happiness of the Deepavali of your childhood, in spite of the restrictions on fireworks, here are a few ideas. The added bonus is that nearly all these are child-friendly. Maybe you can start a fresh set of traditions for your little ones.
1. Make Deepavali sweets and snacks at home – They are healthier than anything you can buy (but perhaps not as tasty, haha), and if there are eager young hands at home, include them in the process. My son thinks it is a great privilege to stand beside me while I cook – he is on standby for when I need to knob of the mixer turned. Kids can also cut burfis into small pieces after they cool (and sneak a bite or two). Also ask your parents and grandparents for recipes and guidance.
2. Share with neighbours and friends – If you have never met the neighbours before, a small box of sweets can be an excellent ice breaker. And perhaps the next time you forget your keys are waiting for the locksmith, they will keep you company? But if your homecooking experiments failed splendidly, it may be safer to share the joy with your friends.
3. Decorate earthen lamps – Many cultures in the country continue lighting lamps for 15 days, or even a month after Deepavali. Make the festival more beautiful by using paints and making lovely designs on the earthen lamps. And when the toddler messes it up, call it modern art (and preserve it to show your grandkids, two-three decades from now).
4. Tell the various stories of the festival – Different parts of the country celebrate Deepavali for vastly different reasons. The details of the celebration also change. The mythology, practices, and belief systems can be enchanting.
5. If you buying fireworks, choose wisely – It is possible to spend a large amount of money and except to be entertained. But it is much more likely that a one or two carefully selected crackers will be memorable. Or simply head out to the beach or your rooftop and watch the whole city celebrating simultaneously. You can get all the bang for almost no buck.
Happy Deepavali everyone! Enjoy the day (and the two-day holiday)!