During Diwali people only come out to light the crackers or to go on rounds to visit their extended family. This is what my fellow foreigners and I learned when we found F.C Road, the biggest and ever-busy road in Pune, devoid of its normal hussle and bussle of people. Shops and restaurants were closed even though they normally never are, and the only noise was that typical of Diwali: the ever-awesome-eardrum-blowing-fire cracker.
Sytske Ottink │ firstname.lastname@example.org
What is Diwali? That is the question… My answer: it’s Christmas and New Year’s rolled into one, but bigger, brighter and louder. The official answer is that Diwali is the festival of Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth. She is honoured with a light festival and Diwali also marks the New Year in the Hindu calendar. This festival of lights is accompanied with the gift giving and shopping frenzy all too familiar from Christmas time. Prosperity and money is all around during Diwali time as there is much money to be made for retail business.All of the lights and the shopping buzz put me in a strangely Christmassy mood between the 11th and 16th of November, as the city was covered in lights and the shops were full of Diwali sweets and gift ideas for friends and family. Usually, Indian festivals are characterized by dazzling processions with the deities’ idols being dressed up and driven around the streets with their entourage of drumming bands, bells, incense and stick dancing.
Diwali is different in that it is celebrated indoors with family; people only come out to light the crackers or to go on rounds to visit their extended family. This is what my fellow foreigners and I learned when we found F.C Road, the biggest and ever-busy road in Pune, devoid of its normal hussle and bussle of people making their way past the restaurants and shops. Shops and restaurants were closed even though they normally never are, and the only noise was that typical of Diwali: the ever-awesome-eardrum-blowing-fire cracker. Small as they are these firecrackers are the loudest I’ve ever heard, and despite years of New Year’s Eve training, I still jumped whenever one went off. Honestly, it sounds like a bomb went off somewhere…
In that sense, the Diwali fire-cracker time is a happy festival time when normal worries do not seem to apply. Normally when being out and about in Pune (especially in malls, cinemas and more expensive restaurants), bags and people are checked for unwanted items and on the streets many signs call for vigilance against terrorist bombs. The upside of this is that airport security will be a breeze for me from now on as I’ve become practically immune after being scanned and body searched when I just go shopping. The downside is that these measurements may have some reason to them as there were terrorists attacks in Pune in August. Fortunately, no one was seriously wounded: the bombs weren’t any good. But these (perhaps overdrawn) concerns with terrorist threats seem to be forgotten as everybody welcomes the new year with the sound of a thousand crackers and children run happily about their neighbourhood to wish everybody a happy Diwali.Even the riksja drivers enjoy their time off during Diwali, giving India a much needed break of its normal constant chaos, whilst the streets are flooded in colourful lights (those who think multi-coloured Christmas lights are tacky: beware of Diwali…) The only ones still on duty are the street cows and dogs, but Lakshmi knows the Indian streets would not be the same without them.
If you liked Sytske’s article, also read Cinderella Complex – A Story from Pune
Sytske Ottink, Pune Correspondent
Sytske is from the Netherlands, where she did a BA in Religious Studies at the University of Groningen. She studied Euroculture in the University of Göttingen and Uppsala University, and is currently doing a research track in Pune, India. She loves anything spicy or sweet, and takes her tea with at least three teaspoons of sugar. Her interests are religion, gender, politics, welfare policy and many other things because she has a hard time focusing on anything in particular. The only thing she can focus on with ease is ice-coffee with a kanelbulle. The next language she wants to learn is Russian and she dreams of using that one day to tour Russia on the Trans-Siberian express.