There‘s just so much to love about Diwali, isn’t there? The lights, the colors, the sweets (oh, yeah!) and the overall feel-good ambiance. And while I don’t necessarily participate in all the intricate festivities of this beautiful tradition these days, I simply love the cheerful atmosphere this festival brings with it.
However, there is a little-appreciated practice within this lovely tradition that I reminisce about with great affection these days whenever the festival is round the corner – the Diwali home cleaning. Yes, back in the day it was one of those festival activities that I would really dread initially but then, somehow, I would find myself relishing it they moment it would commence.
Our old Shovabazar home wasn’t massive, but it sure did have a lot of rooms in it. And, unfortunately, my mother was a stickler for cleanliness. This meant that almost a fortnight prior to Diwali she would begin pestering the children of the house to prepare themselves for the strenuous task of cleansing the home. And this wasn’t just simple cleaning, mind you. My mother ensured that each and every little nook and cranny of our house was tidied up by our poor hands.
We would grumble in displeasure, of course. Because who wanted to spend their precious Diwali holidays devoting hours on cleaning the house? We could have whiled away our time in reading comic books or watching cartoons, instead. But maa would have none of it.
“This is an important aspect of Diwali,” she would exclaim sagely. “Before Maa Laxmi arrives at our place, we need to keep it immaculately clean for her.”
So, against our wishes, we would have to succumb to the laborious task in front of us. And thus would begin the Diwali home cleaning spree.
My mother would meticulously plan the cleaning schedule; one day would be allotted to each room and a rest day would be given in between so that we could recharge ourselves. The children would primarily be deployed for the following: the two main rooms of the house, the massive living room and the temple room in the verandah.
The Diwali cleaning would commence from our main room. The thing with our room was that it didn’t require much cleaning as my mother would usually keep it spick and span all through the year. Regardless, she would still make us do the job. Buckets filled with soapy water along with two separate ragged banyan tees – one for mixing in the water before applying on the cleaning area and the other for dusting – would be handed out to each child and we would then launch on our cleaning mission; with my mother carefully supervising the proceedings.
I was always assigned the loft of our room while my elder brother and the other cousins would take the walls and the cupboards respectively. I loved our loft during this time – it was about ten feet wide and four feet in length – and for the Diwali cleaning most of the space would be cleared out. Things like old rugs, handbags, and suitcases – which usually took up most of the space in the loft – were removed and only a solitary black metal trunk would remain. Since this trunk was too heavy to be brought down, we usually left it there and I had to maneuver my body deftly around it in that little loft to make sure I reached every spot.
And that trunk, meanwhile, was a treasure trove of memories. It was enormous and contained the various toys and board games I and my brother had used growing up but had not discarded for some reason. So every year, as I would be tucked up on the loft, I would inadvertently find myself with my nose buried deep inside the trunk, trying to dig out all the toys and games we had become too old to play with. There would usually be my little green scooter, a red James Bond car (this one has a special history and I have planned a separate write-up on it soon), a basketball game, my old snakes and ladder board game (that had rockets instead of snakes), some old pencil boxes, along with countless other similar items in that trunk. Every year, as I would observe my old games and toys with great interest, it would bring back a sea of memories and I would wonder why I had ceased playing with these in the first place.
I would be forced out of my reverie with my mother’s stern voice from down below: “Stop wasting time, Chiku! Stop wasting time!”
The toughest challenge of our Diwali cleaning ritual was taking on our living room or, as we used to call it, ‘Dadu ka room’ (it used be my late grandfather’s room). That was one massive place with five walls and it required the diligent dedication of each household member to get it spotlessly clean. The color of its walls was light purple and it was bone-crunching stuff, getting them clean. But, for some reason, it gave me great satisfaction in putting all my effort to scrub the area that had been designated to me and then bask in glory after I would ensure that it had been made spotless in every way possible.
Exhausting though it was, cleaning ‘Dadu ka room’ would be quite a joyous experience as almost every member of the family would be involved in it. Some Hindi songs would be played on our old cassette player to help ease the strain on our minds and someone would often break into an impromptu jig every once in a while. The children also indulged in sprinkling dirty soap water every now and then around much to the chagrin of my mother. Then, late afternoon, some snacks would be brought as no one would have the energy to cook anything and all of us would devour on them like ravenous wolves; relishing each morsel as a reward for our hard work.
The last day of the Diwali home cleaning would be reserved for the temple room of our house. It was a tiny room, but the most precious space for my mother. Hence, it required extra caution from all us while dusting anything inside it. The temple room was located at the right end corner of our verandah and the walls inside were coated plastered yellow. All we could do, hence, was dust it with brooms as water could damage the color. That wouldn’t take much time as the room was so small. But I found it fascinating observing my mother who would take added caution to cleanse every little part of the huge temple inside. The little idols of the deities, especially, would be washed and tended to with utmost love and care with Diwali round the corner.
The best time of the Diwali home cleaning days, though, would always be dusk. We cousins would slouch down on the pile of mattresses kept on the verandah - taken out from the respective rooms because of the cleaning that would be going on inside - and give our aching bones some well-deserved rest. We wouldn’t speak much. But just lying there comfortably on the soft mattresses and watching the skies turn red with the hope of a pleasant dinner to placate our tired souls would be quite satisfying.
Every year, once the Diwali home cleaning spree would be over, I would feel a tad empty. It was a tradition that I refused to accept I liked – forcing myself to believe I hated it – and yet it was something that I secretly wished could last longer. I didn’t exactly know why, but I loved how it brought almost all the members of the family together, albeit forcibly, for the same toilsome purpose and how we bonded over the back-breaking work. Then there were those memories of the past that would inevitably be discovered hidden in some nook of the house and in different shapes and sizes – a book, a toy or even a ball – courtesy this activity.
While Diwali was obviously a big event, the entire day, though, would whizz past in so much commotion and extravagance and in such haste that I wouldn’t really have time to sit back and savour things the way I wanted to. The days preceding it, however, with the cleaning activities, were much simpler. Much more fun.
Later in life, I parted with my cousins and moved to a different home. These days, I celebrate Diwali more as a formality than out of genuine happiness. And the Diwali home cleaning ritual is hardly performed. I simply dust my working table and bookshelves and leave it at that. I just don’t have the motivation for doing it with great passion at present. My old house is gone and most of the people I used to carry out those activities with are long gone from my life, too. Someday, perhaps, I will find the drive to celebrate Diwali with aplomb again. And, hopefully, also find the people to fulfill the Diwali home cleaning tradition with.
For now, all that remains are the memories. And a part of me will always cling on to them dearly. A part of me will always remain on the loft of my old Shovabazar home; eagerly scouring that huge metal trunk for his toys. A part of me will always be giving it his all while cleaning the walls of my ‘Dadu ka room’. A part of me will always be found relaxing on the heap of fluffy mattresses on the verandah of that home at dusk.
And even as I will be flipping through a few pages of a long-forgotten book while dusting my bookshelf this year before Diwali, a part of me shall be hoping to hear a female voice waft in through the windows, call out to me again and say, “Stop wasting time, Chiku! Stop wasting time!”