India Diaries 4 : Diwali- Mumbai ishtyle
Diwali, the festival of lights is the celebration of the return of the good King Ram, after he vanquished the demon King Ravan. It is celebrated every year by Hindus across the world as a reminder that good shall finally prevail. The lighting of oil lamps and lights in honor of the return of the king also symbolizes the shattering of darkness and everything evil.
Before moving to the city, all my Mumbai friends had told me that nobody celebrates festivals the way Mumbaikars do. Having moved in July, we were in time to see it in real. September marked the celebration of the 10 day Ganesh Chathurthi festival (the elephant-head, child God who is believed to be remover of all obstacles in Hinduism) followed by 10 days of Dassera (marking the 10 days of war between Lord Ram and Ravan) in the month of October culminating with 5 days of Diwali (Return of Lord Ram with his wife and brother to the kingdom after spending 14 years in exile) celebrations in November.
But nothing that anybody said could have prepared us for the transformation of our neighborhood during Diwali. Lanterns, fairy lights bedecked every street, building and apartment turning the night into a kaleidoscope of twinkling colors. Every building outdid the other decorating itself to the hilt. Walking through the streets amidst the lights made one feel like a child walking in fairyland. I know I felt like this and so did my girls and my mother-in-law; which covers 3 generations. Maybe its a feminine thing. I’m sure the men liked it too but they were less expressive as they almost always are.
All for Rs.100 per person ($1.38)!
The building residents had arranged a party with live music, games, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and live cooking which included Indian (both North and South Indian) and Thai food. Fresh fruit juice, soups, paani puri, ice-creams, Indian sweet dishes like chilled Rabdi (sweetened milk preparation), gulab jamuns ( dumplings fried in clarified butter and dipped in sugar syrup. To top it all, paan was served (betel leaf made into a cone filled with a mix of Gulkand*, grated coconut, dried cherry, cardamom and fennel seeds) to aid digestion.
While we missed out on arranging our very own Diwali party at home, as we had been doing for years, during our stay outside the country, the party at the building, made up for it.
Diwali is about sweets, lights, crackers and giving
Sweets: We had friends (those who hadn’t traveled out) visiting us during the period or have been visiting friends since it was holiday time. The end result has been that we’ve been gorging on sweets, sweets and more sweets.
Lights: Some houses took down the lights on the last day of Diwali. Some buildings too. Others continue to keep it and turn it on every night. I’m not sure if the ritual will continue until Christmas.
Giving: a certain token amount to the underprivileged or to those who work directly under you like the domestic help, the driver or your staff if you own a company is understandable. But in Mumbai there is an unwritten policy that you need to pay all those who directly work for you 1 month’s salary as bonus. In addition, you give a little something not less than Rs.200.00 to the guy you buy vegetables from (not the supermarket but the vegetable vendor), the newspaper guy, the building housekeeping (in our building there are 25 of them!), the security staff (again another 15 of them!), the building maintenance guy who anyway charges you whatever he pleases to fix a bulb, drill a nail etc. There’s no way to avoid them. They come knocking on your door as a right. In fact, by the time I had opened the door for the 5th time to strangers who apparently were part of the housekeeping team, I began to understand the relation between ‘Diwali’ and ‘Diwala’ (bankrupt). Diwali does have a tendency to make a hole in your pocket.
Crackers: As we are an environmentally friendly building crackers weren’t allowed in the building. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any at all. The sound of crackers filled the night and went into the wee hours of the morning during the last 3 days. People just burst it on the street outside the building. Yet, thankfully, the pollution levels haven’t increased because of a general awareness amongst people and temperatures in the city have gone back to normal within 2 days of last cracker burst, as per the Meteorological department. Wish I could say the same for our weight.
The weighing scales are tipping not-so-nicely, and the zip on my dresses refuse to budge and I’m afraid if I tug at it, it’ll split; so since Diwali, I’ve just wearing sack dresses (you know the A-lined ones that everybody is wearing these days which have no zips or buttons. The ones that you just pull over and that don’t show-off the unsightly bulges.)
If you’re going through a similar situation, then “Please Go to the gym Now!” and get fit before Christmas. Don’t wait for New Year to begin to make a resolution.
Diwali break marked our First Holiday in the country
The 5 days holidays on account of the festival marked our first real holiday here and with doctors giving dad a clean chit for 6 months, it was time to explore the city. I’ve written about all these places for my blogging friend Andrea Stephenson of http://harvestinghecate.wordpress.com whom I had promised that I would write about all that I saw in the country. I hope you enjoy reading it Andrea and I hope all you’ll other readers enjoy reading it too.
The sites we saw
The Gateway of India
It was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Mumbai in the 20th Century. It overlooks the Arabian Sea and is flanked by colonial style stone buildings, one of which is the Taj Mahal Hotel. We decided to visit the famous Leopold Cafe’ in the area since 1871. The cafe’ serves food and alcoholic drinks. If you’re think of some sophisticated joint, you’re in for a surprise. A number of wooden 4-seater tables with barely any walking space, walls covered with pictures and paintings of the past era would be the best way to describe it. The restaurant was popular amongst foreign tourists in the past until the 26/11 attacks in 2008 when Pakistani terrorists crossed the Arabian Sea and entered at the Gateway and shot down hundred of people at the Taj Mahal Hotel and Leopold cafe’ and Bar.
Is a famous beach. Its where the terrorist, Ajmal Kasab of the 26/11 attacks was caught by the policeman, Tukaram Omble. The area is also famous for kulfi ( an Indian ice-cream made by freezing concentrated milk flavored with cardamom and nuts) from Kulfi center. Again Kulfi center is no high-end restaurant. Its a road-side eatery where you stand and eat your ice-cream. Mumbai is famous for these kind of joints. If you have a Mumbai friend, you’ve definitely heard them rave about street food. If you have the guts to try it and retain it then you definitely have strong guts. But those of us who are yet to acclimatize ourselves to street-food, we must just satisfy ourselves, watching others eat till the last bite and lick their fingers.
A pilgrimage of sorts
A holy place revered by most people of all religions in India is a 3 and a half hour journey from Mumbai. We left at 6.30 a.m. and reached home at 5.25 p.m. with a breakfast break, a lunch break, a few photo breaks and a fruit shopping break.
The NH160 (road from Mumbai to Shirdi) is a delight to travel by. The moment you enter the highway, you’re in for a visual treat : Fields and fields of sugar-cane, cotton and groundnut, lazing cows, grazing buffaloes, mountains, a river and windmills. There were also a few vineyards on the way. Sugarcane vendors, fruit-vendors selling guavas, bananas, pomegranates are a common sight.
Haji Ali Dargah
Is a mosque and a tomb built in memory of a wealthy Muslim merchant Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari from Uzbekistan who gave up his wealth and finally settled in Mumbai for the spread of Islam. The Dargah is built off the coast of Southern Mumbai. It is the Taj Mahal of Mumbai and is visited by thousands of devotees on any given day.
Is one of the oldest temples in the city of Mumbai. I do not have any pictures of the inside of the temple as photographs are not allowed. There are 4 other smaller temples around the main temple. It is believed the idol of the Goddess was found in the sea and the temple was constructed to house the idol in the 16th-17th century.
A reminder before I end my post
I hope you enjoyed reading the post and for those who haven’t visited Mumbai, maybe you’d think of visiting it now. Until my next post Adios. Please walk, hit the gym and eat healthy so you can enjoy Christmas and New Years. Bye for now.
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