Ruby Banerjea wanders down memory lane.
The fondest memories I have of Diwali are from my school days in Durgapur, West Bengal. We would be on Puja vacation and would desperately try to hold onto the festive season, which stretched from the celebration of Vishwakarma Puja to Diwali, and hope to pull the fun till Bhaiya Duj.
After the five days of hectic activity during Durga Puja, we would get a few days respite to prepare for Diwali. Our preparations would include shopping for firecrackers and sparklers and all the various types of fancy new diyas that would invariably emerge in the market for the season, to impress and compete with our friends and neighbours.
Yes, it used to be quite a competitive affair as we flaunted our wares. Our allowances were quite meagre and we would always be vying with the boy next door, who usually had the latest stuff...and always more. He would drop by, on the pretext of visiting us, but would furtively have a peek at our supply of firecrackers to gauge which of us was better off!
We had been told by our parents and elders that firecrackers always needed an airing and sunning so they could burn and light up to their full potential. And that's exactly when our friend would come cruising by to assess our collection. I can't help but smile at the memories of our childish rivalry. He was an only child and we were two sisters. And when we did not stop bothering him, he would run upstairs to his home and bring his share too so that we could all celebrate together; and that was the best part!
We Bengalis celebrate Goddess Kali on Diwali and Kali Puja carries on throughout the night. So, after expending all our firecrackers and burning our beautiful golden anars (they looked like small triangular foil-covered cones but when they were lit they shot out fountains of resplendent light) we would be off to visit the different locales where Kali Puja was being celebrated.
Our small colony (or residential area) had at least twenty clubs celebrating the Puja and visiting one pandal (a big tent like structure that housed the Goodess Kali) after the other, would be the highlight of the night. Beautiful lighting would be a big part of the celebration as Diwali is the festival of lights.
Sweets and other goodies would follow. All the places we visited would hand out sweets as prasad. Amidst the lights, the noise of crackers and loudspeakers blaring the latest hit songs, our festivities would come to an end and we would head home with great reluctance.
I remember consoling my heavy heart by thinking about Bhaiya Duj, which would follow right after. I would fall asleep trying to figure out a few more ways to torment our neighbour's son who was our Bhaiya (brother) on the day of Bhaiya Duj.
Ruby Banerjea is a stained glass and mosaic artist, a freelance writer and a homemaker. She lives in Wayne, New Jersey, with her husband and daughters who are 18 and 23.
Photograph: Rupak De Chowdhury/Reuters