Exactly 70 years ago, when Hindus and Muslims of India were ruthlessly killing each other in communal riots, there was a small village in an east African Island where both the communities still called themselves Indians. They were warm towards each other. They were a large Indian family. Be it Ramzan, Eid or Diwali, they celebrated all the festivals together. For them Diwali of 1947 was equally auspicious and prosperous as it was in the previous years. To have a glimpse into those days, let’s look into a 10 years old girl’s memory book where she describes her first Diwali after she started writing her diary.
Diwali Diaries 1947, Chake Chake, Africa
13th November, 1947
Finally I am back. It’s been two busy but striking days and I have a lot to say. I really don’t know from where to start. This Diwali was very special for me as yesterday I sat for the Lakshmi puja with my father for the first time and wrote ‘Shri Ganeshay Namah’ in his accounts book. But I’ll come to that later.
I woke up at four in the morning today. Mother told me that I am a grown up girl now. So after waking up, I helped Mother in household chores with my two elder sisters Kusum di and Saroj di. We cleaned the house and I went to throw the trash in the dumping ground nearby. This was fun.
Well, as I was carrying the garbage in the dustpan, Prafulla my younger sister was clattering the vessels. Mother explained that New Year is a very auspicious day; we should keep the house clean, even the dustbin shouldn’t be left dirty. The rattling sound of the vessels was our invitation to Lakshmi ji to come and stay in our house.
After finishing all the work, I got ready and rushed to the kitchen to get the sweets ready for my two best friends. Mehrun, Dilshad and I study in the same class. They never celebrated Diwali at their house but they loved the festival. We always burst firecrackers together on Diwali night. They love the delicious sweets and other festive savouries prepared in our house. I arranged four pieces of each sweet, Mandvi Paak (Peanut Bar), Laddu, Mohanthal and Ghughra (Gujia) in two different plates. When I garnished the sweets with some rose petals, the red looked attractive on off-white, yellow, brown and golden delicacies in a shining steel plate. I covered both the plates with beautiful red and pink silk napkins.
This way of decorating and presenting the gifts I learnt from Mehrun. She has been giving me similar plates with chocolates, biscuits and different imitation jewelleries on every Ramzan. Dilshad also gives me different things every time. Last Ramzan she gave me a lipstick and two nail paints. We do not celebrate Ramzan Eid in our house the way they didn’t celebrate Diwali. But we exchanged gifts nevertheless.
Today I am wearing my new pink salwar suit with beautiful golden embroidery and transparent pink dupatta for which I waited for four long months. Mother allows us to buy this type of heavy clothes only during Diwali. I am also wearing pink bangles which Mehrun gave me in last Ramzan. They go well with my pink dress.
Right now I am sitting in our small closed veranda on the back of the kitchen, ready with the sweets for both of them. I love this place as it is partly surrounded by the lush green trees of coconut, papaya and mango, which you can see from the glass window. Mother told me to wait as she will accompany me to my friends’ houses. She is very busy as so many guests are visiting our place since early morning to wish us a happy and prosperous new year. We are going to start our visits after everyone leaves.
Father is sitting in his shop since morning and welcoming all the guests. Father’s shop is at the entrance of our house. First you will enter his small rectangular shop from the main road and then passing through a tiny corridor connected to his office, comes our huge square room. Here we all sit, study and sleep together or run at the rear end, towards the kitchen, when hungry. . A veranda, connected to the kitchen, lays the boundary of our house..
Almost every house follows the same layout, and is separated by one common wall. Hansa lives in the house beside mine. She is a year older to me and also is a very good friend. This Diwali we both made a huge Rangoli outside, covering both our fathers’ shops, together. We made two diyas and many different coloured flowers around them. Mehrun and Dilshad also helped us.
I think mother is ready to go now. She is calling me. I’ll talk about my visits after I come back.
Well, I assume we still have some time. Mother said that she will not come with me to Mehrun and Dilshad’s place. Both of their fathers have come home to wish us for the New Year and take their money back. I am supposed to go with them.
Wait. Did I say about the money they have come to take?
Aamad Uncle (Mehrun’s father) and Saifan Uncle (Dilshad’s father) are my father’s oldest friends since he has been to Chake. On every Diwali, many friends of my father who do not celebrate Diwali or perform Lakshmi Puja, give their currency notes to be kept in the puja as they also believe it to be a good omen for their business and wealth. We invite every one of them along with our relatives to attend the puja. This year, Andrew uncle also gave his currency notes as he started his new business few months ago. This currency is placed near the goddess during the puja. We call some Brahmin to conduct the rituals. He lights diyas and chants some mantras worshipping goddess Lakshmi. He also explains the importance of this puja by saying that our whole year will be prosperous if we worship goddess Lakshmi with complete faith and delight her so that she will stay in our house giving us happiness.
As I said earlier, this year I sat with my father for the puja. We worshipped goddess with abil, gulal and kanku (kumkum). I also performed aarti of the goddess. I always found these fascinating when I saw my elder sisters getting their turns every Diwali to sit in puja and write in my father’s book. Prafulla will get this chance after two years, when she will be a 10-year-old like me.
Unfortunately, my three brothers will never get this privilege. They get very jealous of us because besides sitting in puja with father, we sisters also get money from our father on every Diwali. When brothers argue on this with father, he smiles at them and assures that daughters bring blessings of prosperity as they are an incarnation of Lakshmi; so what he is giving us is rightfully ours’. I sometimes feel bad for my brothers but everything vanishes when they fight for firecrackers with me after the puja.
I think finally it’s time to go. Father is calling me. I will return with Mehrun and Dilshad before lunch. Today mother has made my favourite lip smackingly delicious Kheer. It is fixed for every New Year day. On the day of Diwali we eat Laapsi (sweet Daliya) and Mung for lunch. Every year during these two auspicious days, Mehrun and Dilshad run around with us, serving everyone and feeding themselves, laughing and chattering all through the afternoon.