Monday, October 26, 2009

Sweets for Diwali

Though you wouldn't know it because of the fireworks still blasting outside your window at 2:00 in the morning, India's biggest holiday, Diwali, just finished up. To get an idea just how big "The Festival of Lights" is, I asked the AIC director, who said "it's basically like Christmas." She forgot to mention the elaborate sand art people put outside their doors, the painting of candles holders, or the unrelenting fireworks.

I was walking down M.G. Road, one of the main roads in Pune, with an Indian friend one night after an excellent curry and paratha dinner. It was insane. People were literally lighting off firecrackers and all kinds of enormous fireworks in the middle of this major road, causing traffic to stop or swerve, and people to take cover in stores. The funniest thing is that no one seems to care - it's a time for celebration and it's one big nation-wide party.

Not everyone is celebrating, unfortunately. I've been conducting interviews with busti (slum) dwellers in my spare time. One construction worker I interviewed (pictured), a worn old man with calloused hands caked with dirt, giving the appearance that they were made from stones, lamented that this Diwali he wasn't able to purchase anything new to celebrate. His wife has had tuberculosis for 17 years, and everything he earns, he invests in her. Like Christmas in the US, it seems the holidays can be a time of enormous happiness for some people, and crushing depression for others.

Over the holidays, I took some freshly made Indian sweets (amazing) to the children living in the Sikligar busti and the Waghri busti. The Sikligars were extremely thankful, and I was impressed by the 13-year-old girl who took charge and broke all the sweets in half to make sure there was enough. I was even more blown away by all the kids who patiently waited in line and then offered me some.

The Waghris were a bit different, probably because there were so many more. Like sharks smelling blood, the moment my friend Bridgete and I arrived, they started coming out of the woodwork. Soon there was a semi-circle of over 30 hungry kids around me, chanting in unison "Da-da! Da-da! Da-da!" I knew, and they knew, that we didn't bring enough treats. With the help of an older Waghri, I started breaking up the sweets. Then I gave the signal to form a line behind the guy who was giving them out, and it was all over from there. Immediately I was pinned up against the wall, and after trying to restore order, someone motioned for me to get out and take cover. As soon as I was out, the kids dog-piled the sweets. One child was knocked over and was crying. The others were duking it out with mushed sweets on the bottom of the pile. It cleared in less than 10 seconds, and there was nothing left, as one kid proudly holding the barren box proved. While not everyone got some, they were happy that we had unexpectedly come with gifts, and they got a good laugh out of the crazed spectacle of their children.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder what the Waghris are like AFTER the sugar rush...