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November 8, 2007
'Sweets and crackers don't make Deepavali special'

The Sivakumars, Chennai

Though Deepavali (as Diwali is called in south India) is at their doorstep, Chennai-based Sivakumar and Anandi have not planned their festival purchases. "We are yet to get our bonus," both say in unison. "But then, it is not the clothes or sweets or crackers that make Deepavali special; it is the spirit."

Together, the Sivakumars earn around Rs 5,000 a month. Their son, Bharadwaj, is doing his B Com while their daughter Priyanka still in school, in Class 9. Yet, the family leaves no stone unturned as far as the biggest festival in Tamil Nadu is concerned.

For the Sivakumars, it is not the amount of money spent on clothes, crackers or sweets that matters. For them, Deepavali is when all the family members meet and celebrate the festival together.

Sivakumar's eldest brother insists that all his seven siblings meet at his house on Deepavali day and have lunch there. Later, all the children burst crackers together. "For us, it is very important to take our elders' blessings. So we go there with whatever we have prepared. Deepavali is the only day the entire family eats together. It is a wonderful experience," Anandi says.

In the evening, Anandi's younger sister visits them with her family to take their blessings. They bring sweets, crackers and clothes for the children and, at night, they have dinner together.

Sivakumar and Anandi get roughly Rs 1500-2000 as bonus each, which they spend on the festival. Anandi, who believes nobody should forget their roots, follows all the traditions associated with Deepavali. "We just do it according to our means," she says.

Tradition dictates that Diwali is celebrated by making sweets and savories at home, so Anandi makes Mysorepak and ribbon pakoda. They do buy new clothes, but opt for the cheaper variety available at T Nagar. They also buy crackers worth Rs 150-Rs 200; that's what they can afford but they like making that symbolic gesture. Even the children insist the family does spend not much on crackers.

"It is our tradition that we burst crackers early in the morning before and after we have our oil bath. So we buy crackers for that purpose only," says Anandi.

Bharadwaj admits he was never fond of bursting crackers, so he never felt bad when his friends in school and college spent a lot of money on crackers. "I got enough crackers to burst at my uncle's place as I was the only boy in our extended family. But I don't like spending too much on this. What I enjoy most about the festival is celebrating it with my uncles, aunts and cousins from my mother's and father's side."

Priyanka, a dancer who performs regularly on television, confesses that she doesn't ask for anything, not even new dress, for Deepavali. "Even if I ask for crackers, I ask for very little; only what my parents can afford. Besides, we are at our uncle's place till evening and we burst a lot of crackers there. What I like about Deepavali is that all of us celebrate the festival together. It makes me very happy."

Anandi explains the spirit of Deepavali in a beautiful way. "On this day, we forget all our worries and enjoy with our family. More than the money we spend, more than anything else, it is the happiness that we get out of the togetherness -- and the blessings that we get from our elders -- that is special to us. This is what we want to inculcate in our children."

Text: Shobha Warrier | Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj
Also read: Intricate, delicate, beautiful... RANGOLIS | Check out Diwali at rediff
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