The morning newspaper has brought in a colourful flyer for the third consecutive day — the neighbourhood supermarket is offering delightful discounts on just about everything one needs, and more.
The ‘fancy ladies’ shop’ (never could fathom the fanciness of this utterly banal store!) down the road is dressed up in ceremonial finery, with gaudy lanterns. The mobile phone shows endless alerts from various online fashion houses. I check the calendar on the kitchen wall for the umpteenth time. Diwali is almost upon us.
Finally, and irrevocably!
Re-imagining rangolis, the convenient way
The house is empty. The menfolk have left for college and work. Sipping on my ginger tea, I casually browse through my gallery of photographs and click open the album preserving the memories of last Diwali. I basically want to check the elaborate rangoli I had made back then, so I can select a new design this time.
Still, remember how time-consuming it turned out – disassembling the petals, segregating and grouping them as per colour, painting a bit, filling in with flower petals, selecting bright green symmetrical mango leaves, placing diyas …phew! And by the time I rose from the floor, my back was so arched, I resembled Nadia Comaneci about to turn cartwheels!
The vibrant colours of the rangoli beckon me from the phone screen. But simultaneously, a robust voice keeps buzzing in my head, asking me to scrap the whole darn idea. To go for one of those bright, multi-hued sticker rangolis that come a dime a dozen. And perhaps, place a few diyas and some shredded rose and marigold petals at vantage points on the ready-to-stick rangoli.
But what about your signature touch, your unique aesthetics — after all, Diwali comes but once a year, my stubborn heart counters, refusing to acquiesce to this preposterous suggestion.
Outsourcing my festive preparations
My tea is over. And thankfully, it has activated a few novel ideas and whetted my reasoning faculties. I look all around me – the house looks reasonably clean, thanks to my regular dusting and decluttering sprees.
Why on earth did I earmark tomorrow for a major cleaning bout? I even instructed the maid to turn in late, so I would have the whole house to clean myself. Was it an impulsive act of bravado…or a deep-seated compulsion to toe tradition, irrespective of health and feasibility concerns? Last time, my back and knees hurt so bad, I had to pop in a painkiller!
Painkillers (and antacids to counter them), NSAIDs, antihistamines for the dust allergy — my regular cache of pills every Diwali. My faithful companions—the precursors to the autumnal festival—thanks to the flurry of clean-up activities I indulge in, year after year. I reach out for my well-organized first aid box to check for my stockpile of over-the-counter drugs when the phone dings. It is a routine notification from Turban Company – the hugely popular one-stop destination for all household cleaning.
Devoting an entire morning to spring-cleaning would be equivalent to carrying coals to Newcastle. Not to mention the labour and time wasted. I calmly called for services for a few specific tasks and booked a two-hour slot with them. With the physical burden and mental tedium of preparations gone, my chest already feels lighter.
Time to head to the kitchen for my daily cooking. While seasoning the dal, I make a mental note of all the ingredients I would need to order from the supermarket for the sweets and savouries that are waiting to be prepared. The dal simmers, and so does my temper. I’m reminded of the past couple of years, when most of the delectable goodies I made were left untouched because of the changed eating habits of people.
These are times of mindful eating and no-carbs, low-fat diets. So why waste time, effort and material, just for the sake of glorifying and perpetuating some antiquated customs? Isn’t it much better to outsource quality sweets in limited quantity, and preserve both my energy and sanity for a happier celebration of the festival? As far as my culinary skills are concerned, they are honed and put to use every single day of the year. Letting them rest and recoup for a day or two – is it too much to ask for?
I switch off the gas and sit with my phone. The search engine offers me several premium choices for mithai and namkeen and promises to home deliver them within a day. And what’s more, they offer a decent discount on sizeable orders.
My happiness knows no bounds. I do a quick maths and realize that with all the time and energy saved, I can probably just squeeze in a spa and salon session – after all, Diwali comes just once a year. And like the brick-and-mortar house, I, too, need a spruce up! Grinning and gloating like a Cheshire cat, I book a session to pamper myself – body and soul. To quote a well-known ad, I’m worth it. And it’s time the world acknowledged that, too!
Digital detox and social cleansing
My feline avatar has chosen to overstay—I stretch myself on the couch, suddenly feeling so relieved and smug. The nagging agenda of cooking, cleaning, scrubbing and decorating – the pet peeves of every Diwali – suddenly seem like a thing of the past. Why hadn’t I thought of these common hacks earlier, I wonder? Well, if necessity is the mother of invention, then mental saturation is the godmother of smart alternatives, I grandly declare to no one in particular!
However, as I congratulate myself on pulling down a few invisible cobwebs of Draconian rules and unfair expectations, a little voice tells me there is more to do. I pick up my phone and scroll through my contacts.
A few names appear redundant and antiquated — people I have lost touch with, over time. People who never bother to respond to calls, messages and even birthday, anniversary or New Year wishes. They had probably outgrown my company… I had probably overstayed in their lives. It was time to make a quiet exit, and what better time than Diwali for a quick clean-up?!
Next in line is my list of friends on social media. Now, let me confess right at the onset that my Friends List is quite diminutive, bordering on embarrassing. I have only those people on my list with whom I can engage in some meaningful digital interaction. Many of them are individuals I’ve never met in person but have befriended, thanks to our shared love for reading, writing, and all things literary.
Or probably because we tread common ground with regard to some social issue. And I’ve had some extremely enriching exchanges there. But of late, I’ve realized that the interaction with a few of them has become largely unilateral…one-sided. While I have acknowledged and responded to their posts, purchased and reviewed their books (at times, on request), and lauded their creative endeavours, I find the reciprocation missing.
Of course, I do not have books to boast of – I only post occasional travel stories on my website and a few creative contributions as co-authors in literary journals and anthologies. I assume I do not make the cut and hence, decide to remove myself from their august league. While the rest of the country is busy cleaning and de-cluttering, I, too, partake in the ritual, albeit differently.
I choose to let go of friendships that have gathered dust…to change gear from one-way digital routes…to let go of the ones who are already gone, and instead, nurture the ones that are wholesome. After all, not everything that is started reaches fruition, and that is okay.
Talking of letting go, there is another area that requires decluttering, a re-jig, this year.
Of late, I feel an overwhelming urge to detach myself from people, situations, and interactions that do not add value to my sensibilities. There are heated digital debates and discussions on pretty much everything these days, thanks to the free-for-all social media platforms we have. And, often, the anonymity they offer.
Movies, books, celebrities, their personal lives, individual comments taken out of context, physical appearances, fashion, sexual preferences — you name it, the e-world whips it up for you! And everyone seems to jump on the opinion bandwagon, lest one suffers from FOMO. And at times, the comments can turn quite disconcerting and undignified, tending to irk one for a while.
Peace of mind comes first
Call it wisdom or an epiphany, I’ve come to realize that not every virtual action or discussion warrants a reaction. Or even a read. If it costs me my peace of mind, then it’s better to give it a pass. Armed with my new-found maturity, I navigate the labyrinths of social media with a spring in my step.
I check the time. My cleaning professionals are about to arrive. I put the milk to boil and soaked some rice. A foolproof, quick-fix kheer with dollops of condensed milk and dry fruits would be my way of honouring the Diwali legacy without actually sweating it out in the kitchen.
My heart feels unburdened. My lungs are breathing easily. I experience a strange Zen. Walking upright with renewed vigour and confidence, I put together an interesting ensemble that is bound to grab eyeballs on Diwali evening. Who knew this festive decluttering was not about losing things? On the contrary, it allowed me to reclaim good health, energy, peace, and an inner light – my most precious gifts this Diwali!
P.C. David Hofmann on Unsplash