The keeper of festivals

Lighting during the Tihar Festival season.

Lighting during the Tihar Festival season. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Its festival time again. And I shy away from the questions, “Diwali ki taiyari ho gayi?” (aka are you done with Diwali preperations?). I cant help it, but it always induces mixed feelings of sad and angry.

Sad that I really havent done anything ‘special’ for Diwali. Or the other festivals. The house is clean. More or less. I clean it – or get the maid to – clean it regularly. We’ve been shifting a lot over the years, so we’ve already gotten rid of most of the clutter. There’s honestly not too much to clean. Unless I want to get finicky about how things are arranged in each drawer and cupboard. But I’ll pass on that.

Are you done with the “Shopping”? Er, what shopping. You know new clothes and all that. Hmm.. Not something I’d really thought about. Gone are the days we bought new clothes on Diwali each year. Now we just go out and buy when we need them. Through the year. I’ve figured most things that we buy in sales, or impulsively, just lie around unused. So shopping is again, at a minimal, and it’s through the year, based on when we need it.

Diwali decorations, er, we’ll be going to my parents place for the week.

But come on, you’ve got to do something for Diwali.

The kid’s school and daycare already have enough story telling sessions, craft sessions, and even ‘cooking’ activity. He proudly brought home ‘shakar pade’ that HE made (ok, and the teacher helped fry).

So what do I now do for Diwali?

I go back down memory lane to the growing up years and relive the festivals of yore.  The smell of Gujiya and cholle poori waiting for us when we came home exhausted and covered with color beyond recognition.  Weeks before Diwali all the house cleaning, removing cob webs, scrubbing the floors, washing the terrace. Followed by Mom dragging us to the market to buy new clothes. Yes, I wasn’t a shopper even then. And after all that exhaustion, coming home to make some goodies each day. A variety of namkeens and just the perfect crisp redish brown chakalis. Mouth watering sweets – cocunut barfi, rava ladoos, groundnut barfi, shakarpade, gulab jamuns, and even cake. The neighbourhood women would send around plates of goodies, goodwill and competition – who’s chakali is the best, who’s gulab jamun the softest. The final few days before Diwali, we’d scurry about and buy the Diyas and all the stuff for the pooja. All through the 5 days of Diwali, we’d make elaborate rangolis in front of the house.  We’d visit friends and family, and they would come over. The kids would have a gala time. The men folk would sit around laughing and joking and feasting. The women would mostly hover in the kitchen, churning out copious amounts of hot chai, hot snacks, and doubled up plates of delicacies.

Wait – there’s something not quite right with that image. Do you see it?

Perhaps that’s what bugging me this festive season.  Why is the onus of all the festivities on the women folk? Why is all the festival preparation – Cooking and cleaning and decorating and shopping – mostly women’s work?  Perhaps because the men folk were mostly away, at work. Perhaps because it was only the women at home.

But I look around me, and I see its so even today. Even though now most  women go to work,  just like their husbands. Mostly. In the apartments around me, in office around me, the men are mostly immune to Diwali. Other than it being another holiday. And that their wives have been nagging them to do stuff.  But its mostly the women, who’re excited about it, who’re preparing for it, who’re ‘lamenting’ all the preparation and hard work & cleaning required, but still ‘slogging’ it out. But I get weird looks for not ‘preparing’, for not being ‘exhausted’ in the Diwali prep.

It seems crazy.

Now as I’m shedding the typical woman, wife, mother image my mother brought me up in, I find myself questioning these gender norms. I’ve stopped fretting the small stuff, like the spec of dust in the corner. I’ve stopped slaving over the stove.  I try to run my household on a bare minimum – a bare minimum of effort that is. So that I have the time and energy to play with my son, to do put in a good day’s work at office. My priorities are different from my mother’s.

The same probably holds true for a large chunk of today’s working women.

Perhaps there are more women out there, like me, who’d rather enjoy festivals in an non-slogging way. We outsource the cleaning and the cooking. We buy new clothes and stuff all through the year. We take the festivals as time to relax, and celebrate. Truly celebrate, with family and friends. Not loose ourselves in behind the scene preparations and serving everyone else. A welcome and timely change. A few women at a time.

What’s your take? What’s it like in your life, your neighbourhood, your community? Do you see the women only carry the torch of festivities and preparation? Do the men/kids really participate, or only ‘enjoy’?

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2 thoughts on “The keeper of festivals

  1. Pingback: Changing Times bring the Change in Air.. | the Other Brain Inc.

  2. Oh I sooooo agree with you. My Diwali is really relaxed No new clothes for the festival, we just hunt in for something new or new-ish in our wardrobes if we find it. I haven’t made anything for Diwali for the last 2 years. It’s the husband who has put in his two paisa at prep, such as lights and bought sweets. Daughter lights lamps and candles. We buy phataakas at the last minute, and soundless ones at that.

    Like you said, why exhaust oneself. We value, above everything else, being together, going and meeting dear friends, hobnobbing with neighbours bursting crackers, and doing a simple puja at home. I just happened to do a massive cleaning this time, but that was a coincidence, as I had a lot of energy after our vacation.

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