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Diwali has come and gone. All over the country, lamps were lit, sweets consumed in huge quantities and crackers burst. In Kerala, it rained. Nothing surprising about that. It has always rained here on Diwali as far as I can remember with rare exceptions. After all it is the season for rain, Thula varsham as we call it. This the Malayalam month of Thulam and varsham means rain, hence the self explanatory Thula varsham.

The specialty of the Thula varsham (as opposed to the Edavappathi, the name for the rain that falls in June and July) is that the mornings are generally sunny and warm, the clouds only gathering by noon or evening, and pouring forth to the accompaniment of thunder and lightning. But climate change (probably) and the depressions that develop over the seas that flank the southern peninsula of the country have been bringing on heavy rains throughout the day rather uncharacteristically during Thula varsham in recent times.

The rains are quite a dampener on Diwali celebrations. I remember my children putting the crackers out under a feeble sun to dry so they would not fizzle out and die when lighted later in the night. One had to keep a sharp eye out because by midday the sky would turn moody and dark, ready to burst forth. The worst part was when it rained in the evening when it was time to light the lamps and burst crackers. I cannot help but think perhaps this is the reason Diwali was never a thing in Kerala unlike other parts of the country. It is just not the season for this kind of celebration.

A couple of years back I was traveling during Diwali. While waiting in the queue for the security check, I heard a loud voice wishing someone ‘Happy Diwali’. It was a young woman wishing one of the security guys. He wished her back politely. On hearing him, the woman expressed her joy at being wished back. ‘No one wishes you on Diwali here (Kerala)’, she complained in loud tones. ‘I have been going around wishing everyone, but most simply stared back at me.’ The security guy, also from the northern part of India like the young woman, did not reply but went on with his duties. That did not deter the woman one bit, who launched into complaints about the lack of the Diwali spirit in Kerala.

What isolated lives people live! They think every part of this very diverse country celebrates exactly the same festivals with the same importance as they do. In my own childhood, except for a few communities with closer ties to people from the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, no one lit lamps for Diwali here. Most still do not do. Crackers being a hit among children, bursting those prevailed. Diwali sweets were unheard of. For Malayalees of Kerala, Thrikarthika which falls on the Kartika nakshatram (and is usually a full moon day) in the Malayalam month of Vrischikam (which follows the rainy Thulam) is the festival of lights. Not Diwali. By then the rains are usually done and have packed their bags and left for distant lands.

Things are slightly different now. The world has become a smaller place, the television and movies have made it so. Diwali, may still not be celebrated by Keralites with as much enthusiasm as the rest of India (not a single house had lamps in my street), but they do it their own way. The most important role is still played by crackers. The many shops that mushroom prior to Diwali is proof enough of their popularity. It is a shame though, especially in the present when their adverse effect on humans, animals and the environment is universally known. It is sad to note people of prominence giving it a communal angle.

The permissible time for bursting of crackers was between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. this year. But I was jolted awake from deep sleep by people bursting crackers well past 11 p.m. This was exactly what happened to Luci her first year. She was fast asleep, as was the L&M that night when our neighbors in the street behind decided it was the right time to begin their festivities. How sick are people who wait for everyone else to sleep to begin bursting loud crackers?! Luci jumped up from her sleep barking for all she was worth, going round and round where she stood, quite clueless as to what was happening. I did not know whether to laugh at her antics or curse the neighbors for confusing my baby.

Luci saw nine more Diwalis after that first one and every single time she stood up fearlessly to the loud and deafening crackers barking louder than them. When the boom of the crackers woke me up this Diwali, I waited to hear her spirited response. There was none, her voice had been stilled.

© Shail Mohan 2021