Sunday, 19 January 2014


Earlier, living abroad meant festivals would come and go in blissful ignorance, as it would just be another working day. Unless there was a function organised over the preceding or following weekend by the Indian community, life (festivals) would just pass us by.

But with the advent of the Facebook and smartphones, one is very aware. Best wishes start pouring in from the day before, animations and cards followed by photographs and videos of the actual celebrations in the community or at home, in India and abroad; makes us all feel  a part of the festivals like never before.

Festivals have a special flavour in every region of India. Yes I would like to go to Brazil during their carnival, but nothing can beat the lure of Durga Puja in Kolkata, Dussehra in Mysore, Dahi Handi in Mumbai, Navratra Dandiya in Ahmedabad, Holi in Mathura (not so sure I would want to be there)....and probably many more.

On 14th January 2014, I saw pictures of the International and Local Kite festival as part of the celebration of Uttarayan in Ahmedabad (on Facebook). Beautiful and creatively crafted Kites of all shapes and sizes took to the sky amidst cries of "Kai Po Che". I learnt for the first time what the name of a very famous movie inspired by Chetan Bhagat's book, meant- A victory cry when the opponent's kite is cut! And of course all festivals have to have their share of some special cuisine, which is eaten together. 

For us as children, we always knew the menu at Nani's house on the day of a certain festival. So the night before Holi would mean a treat including Dhuskas- a savoury deep fried circular snack made from equal parts of semolina, gram flour and rice flour! We always knew whose mother would bake a cake for Christmas and also where the different types of sewai would come from at Eid and which Aunty would make Sondesh for Bijoya.

Just eating together was not enough, on Kartik Purnima, we as an extended family would eat on the terrace. Kheer or rice pudding with Puri was usually the menu and the Kheer was left uncovered to catch the amrit/ambrosia being shed by the moon that night. Did it make us immortally healthier? Emotionally and socially, I now realise festivals do have a role to play.

The people in England today are not religious, hence the only time street parties happen, people get together on the street, are for events like the Queen's 85th Birthday, the Olympics, the Fireworks at New Years and other charity events like Race for Life (Cancer Research) or closer home, the school fetes.

When Nani performed the Chhat Puja, we would be involved and would get up early to drive her to the little lake for the sun salutation in the water. It would be cold! The best part for us of course would be the special Thekuas made of jaggery and wholemeal flour.  But in later years, even if nobody in the house was actually performing the Chhat Puja, somebody in the neighbourhood or amongst family and friends would be and we would receive the Thekuas as Prasad.

What we took for granted when we were little, one longs for now. Hospital accommodation in NHS did allow for gatherings and exchange of Prasad and Sewai during important festivals of North and South India as well as during Eid (we had neighbours from Pakistan and Bangladesh at various points of time) but festivals like Christmas, New Years, Diwali and strangely even Valentine's day, especially in the Metros have become commercial exploits more than coming together of people and families.

All I remember about Raksha Bandhan or Diwali in Delhi (Mega festivals for the city) is the TRAFFIC!!!!!

Another unusual festival, I have had the fortune of being witness to was the display of Holika a day before Holi in Jabalpur. Jabalpur, my sasural is an interesting place, where snake charmers still walk the streets to get money on Nag Panchami. My husband, an artist at heart says he used to be involved in decorating Ma Durga's idol as much as the Tajia at Muharram, for his gali (street) as a young man. Coming back to Holika, who is burnt in bonfires there were many versions of her, I saw. One of the idols depicted her on a vegetable sellers thela, selling vegetables in a Maharashtrian sari whereas most were dressed in Western clothing- skirts, bikins, hot pants, shades.....artististc and religious licence or sculptor's fantasy? 

1 comment:

Rakesh Ranjan said...

Oh, good old days, there was no technology but definitely more fun. In our boarding school,in the name of technology, we had just one common radio in each hostel.

On the Holika day, all of us used to be awake late night and be by the bonfire and,were required to offer ripe wheat grass to the bonfire and take "tilak" with the ash. Next day after the colours, "bara khana", and the attraction was a sugarcane stick for each one, the dessert we used to look forward to.

Later, after one generation,I observed my son, was not celebrating the Holika that much, but, alongwith other children in the colony, used to be very enthusiastic in preparing and burning the oldman on the 31st. December.

Don't know what will be the next change. May be we would see a virtual Holika or Oldman.

So this year, Holi falls on 17 March. "Happy Holi"