05 November 2010
Diwali in India means a lot. It is not just a festival of lights. It is the change of season from receding rains in the October heat to the cool winters of November. It is the start of the agricultural harvests and forthcoming prosperity. It is the gathering of family members. In different regions of India there are different festivals which are considered as major festivals. In Konkan it is Ganeshotsava, in Gujarat and West Bengal, it is Navratri and in the southern parts, it is Pongal which take first place but what is common is Diwali has an important place in the people's hearts all across India. "India is not just a country but it is a sub continent", I remind people when they want to know more about India from me. There is diversity in cultures, languages, food, clothes and there are lot of commonalities as well. Diwali is one of them.
Our dear friend Rahul has always been wonderful when it comes to bringing Indian VSO guys together. He always comes up with some ideas and infects us, of course in positive way. He suggested to get together again at the time of Diwali for touring the northern part of Ghana and also celebrating the festival. There was no question of disagreeing to this infectious but enjoyable proposal. But this time we decided that we should not keep this limited within our small Indian gang but also include all the other VSO friends in our celebrations.
Normally in India, giving a party means, one has to arrange all the food and drinks for all the guests coming for it. It was not possible to prepare food for all the guests we wanted see on the occasion because of the the limited resources we were having here. We decided to take the typical western approach to the celebrations this time. Everybody was supposed to bring something of his own and then share it with others. It is also called as Pot-luck.
Here again I was a self proclaimed event manager. I sent invitations to all the VSO people, conducted meetings with our team members about the activities to be done, contribution amount to be taken from the members, menu for the evening and activities to be done. Then came the collection of contributions from the team members and shopping for necessary items. It was celebrated at the house of our Indian friend Rose. She shares her house with two other girls from UK, Vic and Rachel. Both readily agreed for using their house for the celebrations. Rahul did the hard work of finding fire crackers in Accra but did not find them. We were disappointed with it as Diwali without fire crackers is something unheard of these days in India. I have always wondered how and when this Chinese custom of burning fire crackers was fused with this Indian festival but till date I have not found any answer to it.
Having done the preparatory steps, it was now the job of starting the actual work for the celebrations. On the day we divided ourselves in teams. Ketan and Rose formed the kitchen sub group and I and Rahul formed the cleaning and decoration sub group. As Raj had fallen ill he retired to take rest for the day but later took the job of photographer in the evening. We changed the sitting arrangement by keeping some mattresses on the floor and getting our shoes out. The guests who had come did not mind to get their shoes off and sit on the floor. In fact some of them with their training in Yoga could also sit in the Indian style, which we do not see commonly in people of other nationalities.
Cleaning the house
Rahul with his skill in drawing, drew beautiful Rangoli, but not with sand as we do in India but with the chalks. It was still very good. When Rahul was drawing it, Rose and Ketan stopped working in kitchen due to their curiosity and joined us. They lagged behind on work in kitchen. Vic and Rachel also helped us with blowing balloons and helping us in the kitchen. To our surprise Vic could also roll the Pooris. But still we were working behind schedule. People started arriving as per given time of 18:30 and started asking about the time we were going to start. I had to smile sheepishly and tell them that, as we were celebrating Indian festival we are following Indian Standard Time which is always about an hour behind the schedule. Our last minute idea of serving drink made from fruit juice powder came to our rescue as people were engaged with drinking and conversations. When we were ready, we started waiting for our Ghanaian friends to come. It was the combination of Indian Standard Time with Ghana May be Time. Luckily some of them were living near Rose's houses and Rose just went there and brought them. I hope she did not drag them out.
Rahul’s beautiful Rangoli drawing
Then we lighted the lamps. Not oil lamps like India but candles which we had placed near Rangoli. In order to involve everybody in the activity, everybody was told to light one candle. Luckily there was not much of wind outside and candles burnt steadily making the outdoors very beautiful.
Everybody was requested to take their food afterwards. We had requested people not to bring any alcoholic drink and not to bring anything with beef in order to follow Indian traditions. To our surprise some people had brought food which was made using Indian spice mixtures like Madras Curry Powder and Garam Masala. That was a realization of how Indian style of food has made its presence at the global level. The taste of all these dishes was really good. We could really see the fusion of Indian cuisine with western and African cuisine. With Pot luck we could taste Indian, western and African cuisine at one place. Our group had made Poori (deep fried flat bread made from unfermented dough of wheat flour), Rassa Bhaji (vegetable stew with Potatoes, tomatoes and onions) and Kheer (dessert made from rice and milk). After some debate amongst ourselves, Rassa Bhaji was done less spicy and Kheer was made less sweet to suite the western palette. Kheer was very much liked by all the guests. All of them were calling it Rice pudding. One special mention about the Tablets. Rachel, Rose’s house mate is Scottish and she had made them. These are extremely sweet quadrangle shaped solid pieces made from milk and sugar. I recalled the Sakhari Pedha which is sold in villages of Maharashtra after eating them. She told that it is uniquely Scottish preparation. It made me wonder how the taste could be so similar when there is no official or unofficial connection between the Indian state of Maharashtra and British country of Scotland.
After eating food, it was the turn for the next activity. We had discussed a lot about arranging some dance but nobody from our group was good at it. We first tried to take some practice sessions amongst ourselves but did not agree on what to do. Finally Rose and me decided to give it a go at once but still we were not sure about how to dance. She told me to lead the dance and teach others to which I agreed even when I was not really sure how was I going to do it. We started to play the famous song Nimbooda and called everybody to join. Somehow when it started I recalled some dance steps which we had practised in my native village in Konkan and I taught them to the people who had joined. Finally it resulted into a heady mixture with a Gujarati song from a Hindi film with Konkani dance steps. It was a kind of Indian national integration at the party of international volunteers.
Dance Full On
When the party was getting over, I should mention here that guests also helped us with cleaning the house and washing the dishes which rarely happens in India. The crux of the whole event was that we had fun in an Indian way.
Two days afterwards, our Indian group was climbing Bongo hill (popularly called as Bongo Rock). It was the day of Bhaubeej (Hindi- Bhaiduj), when everybody in my family had gathered at my aunts place. They called me to wish me for Diwali. They were asking me whether I missed Diwali in India. I answered that I missed it. But a second thought came to my mind, which I did not convey it to them. Will I miss this international Diwali next year when I shall be back home? The answer might be yes.