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The Spirit of Diwali

October 2007
The Spirit of Diwali

My mother, a highly religious woman, celebrated all the festivals with pomp and gaiety—but to her, as to everyone else, Diwali was very special. Her preparations for Diwali began weeks ahead, cleaning, decorating, and preparing sweets and snacks.

Surprisingly enough she had a Muslim, or rather a Muslim sounding, name: Sabaz Kali. Whether it was the Islamic influence of Muzaffarnagar where she was born and brought up, her cuddlesome look as a child, or just a desire to be off-beat that had prompted my nana and nani to give such an outlandish non-Hindu name to their daughter is difficult to say. But such a name with its Muslim tag was in no way an albatross on my mother's neck. This quaint, all-embracing name brought in its wake such piquant, heart-warming situations as this one that happened at Diwali in the mid-forties.

Our house in New Delhi was being spruced up for the approaching Diwali. Whitewashing was over, the floors were scrubbed clean, and the curtains had been given to the dhobi for washing and ironing. Now the doors and windows were getting painted by two young workers, both Muslims as was evident from their dress, beard, and head-gear. Just then, my grandma, who was working in the kitchen, suddenly called out to my mother, loud and clear, by her full name—Sabaz Kali.

Both the men with their brushes dripping with paint, paused and looked bewildered as what they had heard was by no means a known Hindu name. They looked around to establish a possible Muslim identity of the household—but there were no telltale clues to come to their help. The walls, normally adorned with pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses, were bare. These had not yet been put back as the walls were still damp after the whitewash.

Soon my mother walked in casually to see the progress of the work. After the familiar Muslim salutation Aadab, they both started talking to her as Muslim young men would talk with respect to an elder sister. It was a great coincidence when they learnt that, like them, my mother too, was from Muzaffarnagar.

Taking her reluctant permission, both dug into their pockets and each gave a one rupee silver coin (value-loaded in those days!) to me, a lad of 10, as a token of their affection. Wishing Diwali-Mubarak, they patted my back and suggested that I should buy some phool-jhadis (firework sparklers) to celebrate Diwali. True, the spirit of Diwali transcends all forms of narrow religious bigotry and parochial feelings, making us ready to reach out to all.

It was a moving experience and a great human message. My mother's eyes welled up, and she withdrew into the puja room from where she sent them a plate of home-made Diwali sweets. To those young men, the festive sweets signified what was noble and magnanimous in human relations, but perhaps to my mother, it was the God's prasad to her newly discovered brothers.

By G. K. Gupta

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