Deep­avali can help heal our na­tion

Post - - OPINION - ● De­van is a me­dia con­sul­tant and so­cial com­men­ta­tor. Share your thoughts with him on: yo­ YOGIN DE­VAN

DEEP­AVALI for me has be­come a damp squib. Or should I say a soggy shur­ban? Ra­jend Mesthrie, the Univer­sity of Cape Town lan­guage guru, re­minds us that a shur­ban is a lit­tle fire­cracker with a dam­aged wick, bent and reused to pro­duce a hiss­ing sound and a fiery sparkle.

The first half of the word is ono­matopoeic – that means the word in­cludes the sound, in this case “shur”, made by what it is re­fer­ring to. The “ban” part refers to an ar­row in Hindi.

Deep­avali no longer ex­cites me as it did many decades ago when it was the high­light of my re­li­gio-cul­tural calendar.

Fire­crack­ers ap­pear to have lost their bang. I do not shop for new clothes, never mind that size XXL is fast be­com­ing ex­tinct. My sweet tooth has fallen out and I now pre­fer savouries. The Deep­avali lamps flicker fee­bly in the wind. In an at­tempt to rekin­dle the spirit of the Hindu Fes­ti­val of Lights, lest I be ac­cused of be­ing the Old Boy Who Stole Deep­avali, I dipped deep into the hip­pocam­pus sec­tion of my brain and found so many mem­o­ries that evoked joy­ous nos­tal­gia.

I can re­call that Deep­avali com­menced at least a week be­fore the al­lo­cated dates – there was no of­fi­cial date de­ci­sion-mak­ing by the SA Hindu Maha Sabha then to get it all wrong. The spo­radic burst­ing of fire­works sig­nalled the ad­vent of the big cel­e­bra­tion. My mother would com­pile an ex­tra-long gro­cery list for all her baking re­quire­ments. She would also add sweet oil, cas­tor oil, co­conut oil and olive oil for the rit­u­al­is­tic oil bath.

My fa­ther would pur­chase a pack of Deep­avali greet­ing cards sold by the Aryan Benev­o­lent Home to raise funds. These would be mailed to out-of-town rel­a­tives and friends and ac­tu­ally reached their des­ti­na­tions within two or three days. The Post Of­fice worked then.

New clothes would be pur­chased to be worn on Deep­avali morn­ing after the oil bath which my fa­ther di­rected, un­til I thought I was too big to be naked in front of him. The pair of shorts and crew neck shirt looked great on Deep­avali day, with lit­tle hint that they would have lost most of their colour be­fore Christ­mas.

For days be­fore Deep­avali, the fam­ily kitchen would re­sem­ble a sweet­meats and con­fec­tionery fac­tory. The din­ing room ta­ble and ev­ery other suit­able sur­face would be piled high with colour­ful bis­cuit tins full of freshly baked good­ies. This was the pre-Tup­per­ware era.

After thor­oughly clean­ing the house, my mother would get down to mak­ing soji balls, po­lis burst­ing with sug­ared des­ic­cated co­conut, ba­nana puris – which were a far cry from the de­signer va­ri­ety of to­day which sport sil­ver dust – syrup-drenched gu­lab ja­muns and the ubiq­ui­tous vades and chilli bites. No one stressed over ex­tra calo­ries back then.

My fa­ther, a head­mas­ter, would pur­chase a wooden box of fire­works at school – the co-op­er­a­tive sys­tem worked well with the-then lowly paid teach­ers pool­ing their resources to buy in bulk and get a big­ger dis­count. Back in our school days, Deep­avali meant at least two days at home. I pity to­day’s pupils be­cause only one day is given off – al­ter­nat­ing each year be­tween the North and South In­dian dates. Since Tamils cel­e­brate Deep­avali a day ear­lier, my brother and I would get started with the fire­works right from the morn­ing, even when our eyes were still burn­ing from the oil bath.

An old rag dipped in paraf­fin would be wound around the end of a stick and set alight. When the flames died off, the cloth em­bers would be used to light the fire­crack­ers. Dur­ing the day, the fire­works were ra­tioned, with the bulk be­ing kept for the evening fes­tiv­i­ties. Hence, each fire cracker counted. Those that did not burst were quickly meta­mor­phosed into shur­bans. Around mid­day, we would have Deep­avali pooja when all the pre­pared del­i­ca­cies would be of­fered to the Gods. There­after, we would dis­trib­ute parcels of sweet­meats to our neigh­bours, be­gin­ning with the non-Hin­dus first. What a bal­anc­ing act that was with those oil-soaked, flimsy pa­per plates.

In the af­ter­noon, my par­ents would visit rel­a­tives with sweet­meats and fire­works and the older women would also be gifted with saris and some cash. What benev­o­lence! At around 8pm, our fam­ily would gather in the back­yard for the fire­works dis­play. More than en­joy­ing our own fire­works, it was a quite a spec­ta­cle to see the night sky light up with all colours of fire­balls ex­plod­ing into cas­cad­ing sprays. It oc­curs to me now that all the cats and dogs in our neigh­bour­hood must have em­braced Deep­avali in the true spirit of Hin­duism. In days gone by, there were no com­plaints from the SPCA about an­i­mal cru­elty caused by the burst­ing of fire­crack­ers. In fact, dogs joined in the mer­ri­ment and seemed to im­bibe the spirit of joy that pre­vailed.

Over time, the essence of the fes­ti­val has changed for me. Burst­ing crack­ers is no longer the pri­or­ity.

The laat­lam­metjie who has not flown the coop still likes fire­works but she dares not burst a sin­gle fire­cracker at our house in a pre­vi­ously whites-only sub­urb. Be­fore you can say “boom”, the neigh­bours would be scream­ing blue mur­der. It’s as if we do not adore our pets. Hence, on Deep­avali night my daugh­ter car­ries her fire­works to my parental house in a sub­urb which was the first town­ship de­clared for In­dian oc­cu­pa­tion in South Africa.

This Deep­avali, let’s make a so­cial pact be­cause our beloved coun­try is fac­ing a dark pe­riod. Hunger, poverty, il­lit­er­acy, job­less­ness and ill health con­tinue to af­flict mil­lions of men, women and chil­dren. Po­lit­i­cally, we are in a wilder­ness.

Let’s whole­heart­edly recog­nise the hu­man­ity of oth­ers and, on that ba­sis, es­tab­lish re­spect­ful hu­man re­la­tions with all races. I wish you a joy-filled Happy Deep­avali.


A VEN­DOR ar­ranges colour­ful lanterns put up on dis­play for sale on the road­side ahead of the Deep­avali fes­ti­val in Mira Road, on the out­skirts of Mum­bai, In­dia.

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