Ihave bought crackers worth Rs 2,000. I haven’t paid the shopkeeper yet," laughs Rajesh Kumar Tyagi. The drawing room of Karnam ‘Sydney’ Malleshwari’s in-law’s five-room house in Haryana’s Faridabad is littered with ‘bombs’ and ‘rockets’ that Rajesh has bought to celebrate his wife’s first Diwali with the family. It’s a special day for the Tyagi family. "I am celebrating Diwali after 11 long years. This is the first time in the last three years of marriage that I am at home on a festival day," says an emotional Karnam, in between shouting to Rajesh to stay away from the crackers. "Guess I am celebrating Sydney today. This is a very special day for me," she adds, with tears in her eyes. Dressed in a bright silk saree and loaded with jewellery, Malleshwari’s unmindful of the steady stream of guests and the incessantly ringing telephone. She is child-like in her enthusiasm and enjoying every moment of it. "I spent four hours in the evening to decorate the rangoli today. I tried my hands on it after a very long time, and am happy that I haven’t lost touch." And Rajesh too is beaming. "This is Karna’s Diwali. She’s so happy. We started early in the evening, and now at 10, we aren’t done yet. Guess we have bought the maximum crackers in the whole of Faridabad today."
Bobby John Varkey
There is no other place on earth I’d rather be," says Arundhati Roy, after a token swirl with a group of 300 men and women from the Narmada Valley, singing and dancing at the Polytechnic Chauraha in Bhopal. Their leader is on a five-day fast and on a maun vrat. But tonight, on Diwali, the determined people of Narmada Valley are eager to transform defeat into victory. "Narmada ki ghati mein ab ladai jaari hai. Chalo utho, rukna vinash hai." Arundhati, like Medha, smiles a lot, but is afraid to join her in the fast. "I wouldn’t think of going on a fast because it will be misconstrued. Because in the class I come from, it would be called a crash diet." Earlier, Roy was asked to give a speech. "Adalat koi bhagwan to nahin hai," she says in tentative Hindi.
A few hundred metres away, on Shamla Hills, is the sprawling and illuminated residence of chief minister Digvijay Singh. But at the dharna camp that overlooks the silhouetted statue of Swami Vivekanand, Diwali is not about fireworks and celebration, it is about cubic tonnes of water that can kill. "My house may not be threatened by submergence but my worldview is," says Roy, carrying her yellow and silver "Free the Narmada" banner.
Moon Moon Sen
For Moon Moon Sen, the festival of lights usually means staying at home with her daughters, Raima and Riya. But it was an outdoors festival this year. "Both my girls are in Mumbai, so it feels a little different," says Moon Moon, as she went about Calcutta inaugurating one Kali puja after the other in various localities. Once back home, a clutch of friends and neighbours made up for her daughters’ absence-with an impromptu do. As the sun sets, Moon Moon insists on lighting up her apartment. "After all, Diwali comes only once a year," she says.
Ashis K. Biswas
Just a quiet dinner with friends," is how Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh described his Diwali. Except that it was in Cairo, on the banks of the Nile. And the "friends" were the Ambanis and the Godrejs. It started with a yatch cruise from Laskar to Ashwan and was followed by a tour of the Pyramids, an encounter with the Sphinx and shopping. The Ambani children lit the phuljhadis they carried with them, and the adults-Tina and Anil Ambani, Adi and Parmeshwar Godrej, Amar Singh and wife Pankaja-lit diyas in their rooms in Oberoi Meena. Sorely missed at dinner was Amitabh Bachchan who couldn’t join the party because of the Friday release of Mohabattein.
The front door of Harshvardhan Nawathe’s house opens to a wall that’s just two feet away. To the left is a small kitchen in which his efficient mother has stacked vessels she has been collecting all her life, to the right is another small room where there are sofas for strangers who keep dropping in these days. And there is a small bedroom inside which his mother confesses, "is partly a second kitchen today because I have too many things to cook." The only tangible sign of Diwali in this house is a corner filled with bouquets. On Diwali, a middle-class Maharashtrian house traditionally doesn’t get anything they can’t eat or set fire to. But Harshvardhan has moved up the echelons these days. The biggest bouquet is from Balasaheb Thackeray. Harsh is explaining how he spent 60 magical minutes with "the great man" when the phone rings. Harsh picks up the cordless and after a pause says, "Thank you, wish you the same. But who are you?" It’s a gold merchant who wants to give him some gold. There are many such calls but Harsh puts them off and worries about how to help his mother in the kitchen. "I go wrong with chapatis sometimes," he says, "They take India-Pak shapes." The head of the family, as many others, says nothing. He just sits in a corner and reads newspapers carefully and searches for his son’s name in print. A few days later he will watch his son on CNBC. Harsh is going today to the studio for the interview. "Busy day," he says. Later at night, he has to visit his friends. "They have been saying I don’t meet them because I’ve become a big man."
Raj Loomba, london’s latest host
For years Diwali has been spotting time for Who’s Where on the Indian social ladder in Britain. The Hindujas listed on their top table the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Atal Behari Vajpayee. But the millionaire host this year was not the Hindujas, who kept 2,000 guests waiting on one memorable Diwali under a lurid play of green and purple lights until the arrival of Tony Blair.
There were other lamps, other lights in London this year. Mayor Ken Livingstone lit the diya at a banquet in London at the Dorchester, that starry-priced haunt of Saudi princes and Indian millionaires. The millionaire host was Raj Loomba, no relative of the Hindujas, who’ve retreated from the lights to darker days. But even with Big Brothers away, and no prime ministerial guests, it was Diwali, and the lights that were lit were very Indian.
It was "a complete Diwali" at Info-tech headman .R. Narayanamurthy and wife Sudha’s house. The only mark of festivity was Sudha’s bright silk saree. But, as a beaming Murthy pointed out: "For the first time in several years we spent quality time together." His daughter, Akshatha, is away studying in Paris, but the rest of the family went out shopping. They bought CDs for son Rohan, and books (From Third World to First: The Story of Singapore by Lee Kuan Yew and The Works of Oscar Wilde). They dined at Tandoor, Akshatha’s favourite restaurant in Bangalore, before visiting Murthy’s mother and sister. The family came back home for an aarthi by Sudha’s mother and sister who live on the ground floor.
B. R. Srikanth