Sunday, October 31, 2010

Deepawali - A Memoir

“Can you come here for a minute? Check and tell me if the dough needs to be a little softer. All the children love thenkuzhal only when it is crispy. Should I add a little bit more butter to it? ” My mom shouted to be heard over the noise of television from the living room. Looking at her bulging vocal chords, you would think that my aunt was standing a good 200 feet away in our neighbor’s yard but she was only standing 2 feet from my mom busy grinding the soaked rice and urad dal in the grinder. If the batter doesn’t ferment well overnight, the Idlis won’t come out good. And we have had Idlis for Deepawali morning breakfast for as long as I can remember. I could hear my Dad and Uncle animatedly arguing over the different possible outcomes of that day’s long awaited cricket match between India and Pakistan. Their voices were just as loud as the heated literary debate on television that was part of a special series of programs for Deepawali next day.

“Hold that thought. I want to add a bit of water to the Idli batter first before I get distracted again. If I take my eyes off for a second, I am liable to forget it. You know how forgetful I am getting to be these days.” My aunt fretted over the grinder some more before turning to my mother. Pinching the dough with her fingers, she nodded her head. “Yes, add a stick of butter to it and may be some more cumin seeds too. “ Watching my mom follow my aunt’s advice, I peeked in to the several big stockpots lined up at the southern wall of the room. So many sweets and snacks! The colorful line-up could bring a saint to his knees and I was only 9. Grabbing a fistful of murukku and thattai, I quickly stepped out of the kitchen before my mom or my aunt caught me. When the kitchen smells of sugar, cardamom, cumin, butter and deep fried oil, you can tell that Deepawali is here.

Grabbing the only empty chair in the living room, I settled down to enjoy the snacks and the debate on television. At least I tried to. It is not easy to follow the TV program when your many cousins and aunts and uncles are all gathered around you engaged in various spirited conversations. Giving up on TV, I turned my attention to my sister and 2 cousins playing cards on the floor. “You are a cheat. I saw you signaling to her. You let her know what your trump is, didn’t you? I will never play with you again.” My 12 year old cousin stomped out of the room. All eyes turned towards me. They wanted to know if I would fill in for my cousin at the game. Well, why not? With so much drama going on in the living room, who needs TV? Sitting cross legged on the floor, I picked up the cards and looked at the big grandfather clock on the wall. Another hour, at least, before we would all be called in for dinner. Just the thought of the slowly roasted potato curry and onion lentil sambar simmering on the kitchen stove even as we played cards, had me wetting my lips in anticipation. Onion sambar and potato curry are a delicacy any day but somehow they assume incredible taste and flavor during Deepawali. As my mind wandered to the big suitcase full of firecrackers in the bedroom that all of us were looking forward to getting our hands on early next morning, I knew very well that very soon I would have to viciously fight for second helpings be it for sparklers or potato curry as was the norm in all large families. Glancing around at the noisy room around me, I knew that I wouldn’t have it any other way.


That was a nostalgic recollection of the night before Deepawali when I was about 9. I find it curious that I am unable to remember the color or pattern of the new clothes that were bought for Deepawali that year but somehow can clearly recollect the mixed voices of the many people sitting around me as well as almost smell the onion sambar and potato curry wafting from the kitchen that night. Goes to show that Deepawali is much more than fancy clothes, magical firecrackers and fattening sweets. It is an opportunity to make big and small memories with our loved ones. It is the only gift that matters.

Happy Deepawali everyone!