The lovely weather, the warm-hearted festive mood, the food and the beautiful lights make Diwali definitely one of the most special few days of the year for me.
The main reason for that, which tops all others, is the moments with family and friends. The significance of Diwali has only grown for me because this is the one time of the year when I visit my home in Nagpur, the whole family is around and we can all sit down, have meals together and chat heartily, our mobile phones tucked somewhere far away!
On every homeward-bound journey, I reminisce over my previous Diwali. Indeed Diwali days are blissful -- pity, they only come once a year and don't last long.
As a child, I LOVED Diwali. It was all-play-and-no-work time for me for the entire 10-day duration of the school holidays! Since my parents were working professionals, we would kickstart our Diwali preparations almost a month before, to avoid last moment panic. As a family of five -- my mom-dad, Dadi, elder brother and I -- the work would be well distributed amongst us.
For Diwali, the house would be painted and cleaned till it shined like a new bride. According to my Dadi's shashtra, Diwali is the time when Goddess Lakshmi steps into the house to bring peace, wealth and prosperity and she likes visiting homes that are clean and well lit. That was my early lesson about 'cleanliness is next to godliness'.
Shopping was, of course, hands down, a favourite activity during Diwali. It was a great fun going in a rickshaw with mom and Dadi to buy diyas, lanterns, decorative lights, rangoli powders, groceries for faral... the list would be exhaustive and the days very, very long!
I would be particularly excited about getting a new festive outfit. The endless task of choosing colourful kurtas under mom and Dadi's stern eye was tiring as much as it was fun.
My mom and Dadi juggled their time between making snacks and shopping outside. Being the youngest, I was in charge of any last minute requirements in the kitchen. The frenetic pace in our kitchen would give any good restaurant kitchen a run for its money.
It wasn't like the men of the house didn't participate in the various kitchen tasks. The constant sound of chopping, cutting, frying and the fragrances of spices, sugar and ghee would fill the home for days before.
Strenuous efforts, across a week, saw the wonderful faral thali get ready with a delicious assortment of chivda, chakalis, sev, besan laddoos, karanjis, sweet and savoury shankapalis!
After a portion of the goodies had been kept aside for Goddess Lakshmi, we were free to gorge. My mother and Dadi would look at us with much anticipation for feedback on the faral. '10/10' was the usual answer.
Chilly Diwali mornings were about abhyanga snaan or the early morning customary bath with ubtan (a body scrub powder made of Ayurvedic herbs) and fragrant oil.
I dreaded this routine. But the excitement of getting into new clothes would instantly take over. After decorating the house with marigold and mango leaf garlands, we would have a small morning pooja. And by late evening, all of us would get ready for the Lakshmi Pooja. After that, friends and family would gather with gifts and mithais and for laughter and lots of fun.
The best of Diwali memories was the firecracker show! They pollute. They are too loud. They are dangerous. Yes, all that is true. But we were not planet-conscious enough back then, like we are now. We would be scolded by elders for our careless antics while lighting the crackers! Those fuljhadis, chakras, rockets, anars were truly mesmerising.
The Diwali dinner menu was lavish -- pooris, Aloo Ki Sabji, paneer, chana and Pooranpolis served with loads of ghee -- and the family chatter through the meals was memorable.
As Diwali ended, the hope of another happy year began.
My favorite Diwali preparation has always been Khare Shakarpali; it was one of the first recipes I observed and learned from my mom.
Khare Shankarpalis or Namkeen Shankarpalis
Servings: 30-40 pieces
Shankarpalis are a crunchy fried snack that can be made sweet or savoury. Khare Shankarpali, the savoury variant, which is also a yum teatime snack, is very easy to make and requires a few basic ingredients -- flour, oil, a few spices and salt.
- 1 cup maida or all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp sooji/rava or semolina
- ¼ tsp ajwain or carom seeds
- ¼ tsp kalonji or nigella seeds
- ¼ tsp jeera or cumin seeds
- 2 tbsp hot oil
- Salt to taste
- Peanut oil for deep frying
- In a bowl, mix all the ingredients except the oil and water.
Add the hot oil to the mixture.
Knead into stiff dough using as little water as possible.
Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
- Take a portion of the dough and roll it out into a thin over-sized roti.
With a knife, cut vertical lines, 1 inch apart, and then cut horizontal or diagonal lines, at a slight angle, to get diamond shapes.
- Heat the oil for frying in a kadhai and fry batches of the diamond shapes over medium heat.
Flip until golden and crispy.
Drain onto a tissue or paper towel-lined plate.
Cool and serve or store in airtight containers.
Editor's Note: Shankarpalis are traditionally cut in diamond shapes but you can experiment with different shapes and sizes.
The oil must be medium hot. Frying Shankarpali at a high temperature will cause the outside to brown too quickly and the inside will remain uncooked. Similarly, frying at low temperature will make them hard.
The addition of hot oil to the flour mixture is called moin. It ensures crunchy and crispy Shankarpali.
To make the spicier version of this recipe, add ½ tbsp chilly powder, ¼ tsp turmeric and ¼ tsp black pepper powder to the dough.
Shankarpalis can easily last for 3-4 weeks if stored carefully in an airtight container.