Are you still recovering from the excesses of Diwali? I am, too. It was particularly stressful this year because I was determined to have a politically correct Diwali. This meant that first I had to buy a huge number of crackers guaranteed to make the air around my home hang like a grey pall for at least 12 hours while simultaneously deafening my neighbours. It took some effort and a lot of money, but I managed it. With help from my spouse, my child, my watchman and family, and neighbourhood volunteers.
Second, I wanted to make sure my Diwali was linguistically and genealogically correct. I wondered for a long time whether or not to light diyas because someone told me diya was an Urdu word. But I decided to take research into my own able hands and voila, my problems were solved. Did you know that ancient Indians had gone to the Horn of Africa and given the people there the idea for earthen lamps? That country was thenceforth called Djibouti, whose name comes from diya (lamp) + jiba (life). Lighting diyas is therefore good because it rightly recalls this glorious past.
Lighting tooni bulbs or fairy lights was a much easier decision because, of course, from Mahabharata times we have been importing these from Tunisia to use as streetlights and that makes them very ethnic chic.
I must confess I knew nothing of this rich history until I happened to hear a Sri Sri Ravi Shankar lecture where a disciple asks him where the warriors in the Mahabharata got their weapons from and he replies that they came from an astralaya or armoury, which was actually the Sanskrit name for Australia. The scales fell from my eyes and all of etymology became clear in a flash. Since then, I have been following in Sri Square’s hallowed steps.
When it comes to snacks, Mysore pak and Madras mixture are easy, their origins are crystal clear. But what about laddu ? What about kaju katli ? Well, ancient Mahabharatiyan women used to eat small balls made from chickpea flour to break their Kadva Chauth fasts. These balls came from Latvia and were called Latvoos, which slowly got Indianified to laddus . So that’s a safe bet. As are kaju katlis . Cashews were much loved by Indian travelling monks who introduced them to Central Asian nomads who loved them so much they decided to call their country Kazakhstan because they used to pronounce kaju as kazu.
Sweets were getting easier and easier to be patriotic about. A friend of ours landed up with mini cheesecakes and then apologised profusely. He had not realised I was on a Mission Implausible. I reassured him. Cheese, I reminded him, had been invented in India and dated back to Kamadhenu times. So anything to do with cheese is per se desi.
But what about savouries? Well, I decided to go with tiny tri-coloured sandwiches because sandwiches were invented by a British earl and the British Raj ruled India so it was as good as invented by an Indian earl. From there to Earl Grey tea was a tiny leap.
I wondered if someone might object to samosas ; after all they are supposed to have come from Iran, where they were stuffed with minced meat and called sambosa . But what if history is wrong? What if our warriors, while bringing back weapons from Astralaya, decided to visit an island nearby called Samoa where they found the natives chomping away on some potato-stuffed conical snacks? It stands to reason that they cocked their culinary ears, stole the recipe, returned home, and named it samosa .
Now that décor and food were solved, I turned my attention to clothing. Even though during Mahabharata times India was importing cloths from Vastralaya, nowadays we have become atma nirbhar. I warned everyone not to stitch anything because Bhaarateeya Samskaaraa forbids it. So we took dhotis and dupattas and saris and fastened them with safety pins in elegant shapes and draped ourselves. Sometimes it got a little windy in some parts of the body, but overall we managed. And, of course, we wore at least 6-7 bindis each. Like Sudha Chandran in Kahin Kisi Roz. As you can see, my dog might be a mongrel, but nobody dares question my Diwali party’s pedigree anymore.
Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark.