It was a nice Diwali this year. Last year we had beautified the apartment with diyas, rangoli and lights but generally spent it low-key. Later we found out that many people gather at Shree Radheshyam Mandir in Sandton and even light fireworks there! So this year we were determined not to miss it.
Firstly, we had to go get firecrackers. At the annual Newtown Diwali festival that we attended at the beginning of the month, we had seen a flyer for a store in Lenasia selling fireworks. And since we hadn’t really seen Lenasia yet anyway, we decided to give it a try. So, on Saturday (which was coincidentally my birthday) we did the somewhat long-ish drive to Lenasia and went to this store called Milan’s. I don’t remember the last time I walked into a shop that was so filled to the brim with fireworks! It was a nice feeling, something I hadn’t experienced in maybe 15 years or more. As we started enquiring about crackers and bombs, we realized that it was a bit different here than in India. They did not understand what ‘flower pot’ or ‘anaar’ meant. Instead, we got something called ‘volcano’ which looked similar but much bigger. I noticed that these were Chinese fireworks, not the ones from Sivakasi, Tamilnadu that we used to get regularly in India. Anyway, we got all the basics – sparklers, flower pots, a few loose bombs etc. Didn’t want to go overboard… just wanted a handful to get that festive feeling.
The evening before Diwali (called ‘chhoti diwali’ in India) we put our string of led lights up. I tried my best to tape it on to a window in the form of a diya. Diwali day itself was a normal workday (no holiday here despite the significantly large Indian population!) so we quickly wished all our loved ones back home before heading to work. Late afternoon/evening some friends dropped by and we exchanged sweets. Got that nice feeling one gets in India when neighbourhood friends and relatives visit over a festive occasion. Then we made a few calls to our parents and siblings, wishing them once again. Before we knew it, it was time to get dressed and head out for the temple festivities.
There were a lot of people at the temple and it was interesting to see everybody dressed to the nines in their best Diwali garb. The Lakshmi Puja was supposed to start at 7 pm and the fireworks were scheduled to start at 8:30. We reached there on time, luckily found parking amidst the sea of cars and said our prayers in the busy hall. As we sat there doing a bit of people-watching, some had already started setting off crackers in the lawn and it was only 7:30 or so. Clearly, most people were there for the fireworks! To our pleasant surprise we also saw a couple who we knew and started chatting with them. Soon, we too headed into the large lawn to join in the celebrations. It was just like in India… people lighting fireworks all over the place, within hardly a few feet from each other. Of course, this being a foreign country, there were plenty of fire extinguishers strategically placed on the lawn should something untoward happen. There was originally a tape running across the lawn demarcating the safe viewing zone with the live firework zone. But Indians will be Indians, so that rule was soon broken and people were all over the place. It was also amusing to see a black guy who had come with his Indian buddies who tried their best to explain to him in detail about how people go nuts over these fireworks back home. All in all, it was so great to relive this experience after more than a decade! People were generally friendly too. Nothing like lighting your sparkler with the help of somebody else’s already lit sparkler – the perfect ice-breaker!
It was a weeknight though, so we had to return home at a decent time. After dinner, we had our own little party on the front patio with friendly light-emitting sparklers. Didn’t risk any sound-producing bombs, though my curiosity eventually got the better of me and I simply had to try out a tiny little ‘dancing cracker’, which at most would have woken up an alley cat nearby. Overall, it turned out be a really fun evening and I was happy to see so many Indians celebrating in an alien country.