Read the whole childhood series here
(No Deepavali is ever complete without the crunchy murukkus – I am sure everyone agrees on that. The photo was taken on Deepavali last year)
Certainly, Deepavali was not like how it used to be back those days, somehow some things have changed, don’t you think so? Perhaps it is because we have grown up and life has gotten slightly more complicated or perhaps large family gathering getting out of fashion these days, I don’t know.
Back then, the tasks for Deepavali celebrations actually start a couple of days (sometimes weeks) before the actual date.
Two things happen before we celebrate Deepavali – the making of Deepavali cookies (the usual “culprits” are there – achi-muruku, muruku, butter biscuits, etc) and shopping for new clothes. The making of Deepavali cookies was done on a “gotong-royong” basis with a number of neighbours (or my aunties if we had gone to my grandma’s house couple days earlier) and all the kids pitching in.
All share the cost of purchasing the raw materials and the hard work of mixing the flour, the ghee, the sugar, the eggs and finally the cooking. As kids, however, it was not hard work but rather it was a fun thing to do especially when my Mom passes some of the work to press the murukku to us and we try to outdo each other with the best shape that we can do without breaking the pressing (although excitement runs out fast and we all soon will get bored to help out).
Shopping for new clothes, however, had to wait until the last minute when my Dad gets his pay (sometimes with some extra festive pay from his Boss). If the pay is good (provided my Dad did not take too many medical leaves for the month), we can look forward to more than 1 pair of new clothes but if it is not, we were more than happy to have just one new T-shirt (and all others recycled from previous years).
No matter what, our parents made sure we had something new to wear on Deepavali although they often do not buy new clothes for themselves. We would then rush to the one place we can expect to buy new clothes dirt cheap – Petaling Street (back then, we did not have Pasar-Malam or hypermarkets near our place)
The night before Deepavali
This is far more important than the morning of Deepavali itself – for one reason only – the prayers to my late grandfather and my youngest uncle (both from my mother’s side) who had passed away when I was still small.
We usually do quick prayers for my grandfather and grandmother (from my father side) couple of hours before we take the bus all the way to Serdang (change bus halfway in Puduraya) and to my grandma’s house where my grandma and my aunties had already prepared for the prayers – the hall has been half cleaned, the chicken & the glorious dishes have been cooked and the altar has been readied.
We would arrive at my Grandma’s house hungry and tired but very excited. We would place our new clothes at the altar and head for a quick shower (my grandma would insist on it). Then the prayers start with all at the front of the altar and taking a turn to do our own prayers asking for blessing and hope for a better year ahead.
Once that is done, we would have our dinner and it will be one of the best dinners we will have for the year with chicken, mutton, prawns and more. But that is not the end of the activities for the day – the house would still be in a mess so after dinner, we will start with even more cleaning and decorating of the house.
Whilst the ladies get themselves busy with the usual cleaning, changing of the curtains & sofa cover and making more murukkus & preparing for breakfast in the kitchen, one of my aunties would start “drafting” kolam using chalk at the main entrance (she kept a scrapbook full of various designs). Once done, I would be assigned to paint the kolam with white paint as my cousins would be busy with other cleaning tasks.
It would be quite late before we go to our beds. Even so, as we are sound asleep, my aunties, my mom and my grandma would still be awake, doing last-minute cleaning and cooking. We have no idea what time they actually go to sleep but one thing we are sure of – they are first to be up before us the next morning.
The morning on Deepavali
We would be fast asleep when we would be “rudely” awakened early in the morning. No thanks to the late bedtime the night before (or early morning), we would be struggling to even open our eyes. My mom, on the other hand, would be the next person standing by our bed and making sure we march off to the bathroom for our morning shower.
And she expects us to do it without further delays as we need to do the morning prayers before breakfast can be served and they need to serve breakfast early for my uncles and my Dad. So there was no excuse for late prayers (it somehow changed a couple of years later where we were allowed to wake up late).
Perhaps due to my Mom’s persistence or the prayers songs in the background, we would somehow force ourselves off the bed and stand up but with our eyes still closed. My grandma would come over and rub the oil on our head and leave us alone to catch up on bit more sleep whilst waiting for the bathroom to be free (being at the grandma’s house means the kids gets VVIP treatment – hot water all readied by the time we are ready for our morning bath).
Breakfast was simple – hot thosai with spicy chicken curry but that is the beauty of it. Simple but heavenly delicious and there is no end of hot thosai served on our plates.
We were made sure that we had a very hearty breakfast before we don the new Deepavali clothes – all waiting for us at the altar from last night.
The rest of the day on Deepavali
The activities for the rest of the day on Deepavali are usually divided into 2.
First, to entertain my uncle’s guests who will visit him without fail every year – kids had to make sure that the drinks (soft drinks and beers) are replenished on time. And my uncle usually has 10 – 15 guests coming in all at the same time, so imagine the chaos the living hall would be. And they usually come for lunch, so my aunties, my Mom and my grandma would be very busy as well in the kitchen.
We kids need not be around all the time – our “services” is usually needed at the start of this activity.
Once done, we would be busy with the second activity for the day – playing (and more importantly experimenting) with firecrackers. We usually start playing the usual way of playing firecrackers but boredom would soon get better of us. We would “open” up the firecrackers and use the powder to blow up things at the garden including ants colony (ya, we were Ants Bully too once)
Soon after lunch and after my uncle’s guests had left, it would be time for other guests to come over. It is also time for the ladies in the house to get a break from all that cleaning and cooking. It was also time to watch the Deepavali special on the television (another round would at night – still remember Dunhill Blockbuster those days?).
It is also time for us kids to visit the neighbours. No afternoon nap on the first day of Deepavali – it is either watching TV or munching up the murukkus or playing firecrackers.
The night on Deepavali
Another round of good delicious food to be savoured on Deepavali night as we would get another stream of guests at night – mostly from aunties’ side. We would soon get busy watching another “blockbuster” movie (the same movie that we had seen on pirated VCDs but just clearer version this time around).
But soon, we would get bored again and it was time for another experiment with the firecrackers. However, we had to do that at the side of the house, away from the front where my Dad and my uncles are having their drinking session and their long chat. It is one of the rare moments when you can get everyone in one place and enjoying themselves.
One or two experiments has gone wrong from the side of the house (it usually do but without anyone getting hurt) would be enough the disrupt the drinking session at the front and sends one of my uncles to come over to check and see what the kids are doing – a quick reminder on safety and we are let off to continue. By now, the tiredness for the past 2 days of preparation and waking up in the morning would have started to settle in.
Nonetheless, it would be late before we go off to sleep, waking very late the next day. Things are so different these days.
And before we go off on holidays and get high on murukkus & beers, I leave you with this quotable quote (good one, Durai) to ponder through during the holidays:-
“PM even announced that the cut in sugar subsidy would actually help to improve our sex life; which is important because the government needs to fuck us all the time”