Happy Diwali

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By t2's toolkit for a terrific Diwali. Go have a blast!
  • Published 10.11.07
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Crackers

Pollution control norms may have taken the bang out of the chocolate bomb, but let there be light if not sound.

What’s Diwali without sparklers, rangmashals, charkis, tubris and rockets? And as if to make up for the banned pleasures of the loud bursts, the light effects are getting fancier by the year.

Huge boxes promise a continuous shower of balls of light for at least half an hour. Others zoom up in the sky and burst in the form of cartoon characters. The names of the crackers are as fancy as the show they promise — Colour Plaza, Supersix, Diwali Fiesta, Honey Dew and Turbo Gun.

But the staple remains the humble sparkler, tubri, rocket and charki. “That’s to keep the kids busy through the evening. But customers generally also buy some fancy items for effect,” said Aftab Alam, a salesman at Geeta Stores, a Burrabazar shop dealing in fireworks.

“The bulk of our sales come from sparklers, anars and charkis. People buy these to keep the kids happy through the evening, but Diwali is incomplete without the lightworks that rise in the sky,” says Ranjit Kumar Dutta, proprietor, G.N. Dutta and Sons.

“Some crackers rise 25 times, and you even have ones with 500 shots!” exclaims Tilak Ray of Deepak Stores.

Lights

If Durga Puja is all about lights at pandals, during Diwali the focus is on houses that glow with twinkling fairy lights, flickering candles and diyas. Lights from China have flooded the market and Chandni Chowk is overflowing with options. There are tubes of red and green lights and bulbs hidden within silky petals. There are crystal balls, plastic hearts, stars and flowers.

Then there is the Matka Net, flower shapes in plastic and the ‘sun ball’. “But the best thing is the LED, which is brighter and lasts longer than rice lights,” says Supravat Karmakar of Philcon Electronics. But Khabar Ghar, which stocks lights just for this season, says that the old favourites of Diwali — the white rice lights — still burn the brightest.

Diyas and candles can be bought from Burrabazar, or upmarket shops like Nik Nish or Giggles. There are bright and glittery candles, scented candles and tea lights. “Floating candles in floral shapes do really well,” said Tapan Shaw, manager, Giggles.

Food

“Every festival is an excuse to celebrate outside, but unlike the Pujas, we have noticed that during Diwali and Christmas, non-Bengalis prefer to stay at home,” says Joymalya Banerjee of Oh! Calcutta. The restaurant in Forum has a Morich Majlish festival on till November 15, as an ode to the chilli, the spice of the season.

According to Rakhi Purnima Dasgupta of Kewpie’s, north Indian cuisine is in perfect sync with the festival. “Calorie check takes a back seat and it is heavy-duty delicacies like Butter Chicken that are favourites.” At Diwali parties, a “spread including a healthy blend of Indian, Continental and Italian cuisine is the order of the day”.

Park Street is, as always, the hub of activity. “Diwali or Kali Puja is not on the same scale as Durga Puja, but those who come out, come in groups and with family. Our Chelo Kebab and sizzlers are year-round favourites,” says Nitin Kothari of Peter Cat and Mocambo restaurants.

Sweets

Diwali is the time for traditional sweets, despite the popularity of new-age gifts like chocolates and even Kurkure packs! Barfis and laddoos are the flavour of the season.

At Haldiram’s, the rush has already begun. “The crowds pour in throughout Diwali week. Sales are soaring and we are expecting a hike in sales of sweets of 10-15 per cent this year,” says Sharad Agarwal, director, Haldiram’s. “Kaju barfi and ghee laddoos are popular in gift packs and a new variety called Kaju Sangam Barfi is selling well,” he adds.

But to each his own. “Nothing can match the taste of traditional milk-based sweets. Our sales have shown a rise of 15 per cent in the past four to five years, despite the competition from non-sweet options,” says Dhiman Das of K.C. Das. People buy sandesh, cham-cham and gulab jamun but ras malai is the most popular sweet now.

If you are sending your festive greetings to a big family, Diwali hampers are an easy way of putting all your sweets in one basket. Chocolates sell like hot cakes at Kookie Jar. “Firecracker pastries, chocolates with hazelnut and raspberry centres and cakes topped with golden anars are the season’s specials. But what sells most are chocolates,” points out Puja Kapur of Kookie Jar.

Beverages

Sweets are washed down with lassi in many different flavours, but drinks aren’t as popular as food and sweets this season.

Says mixologist Irfan Ahmed: “At a traditional Diwali party, the taash zone is likely to keep you busy. And shifting focus to fix a drink for family and friends can be tedious. So prepare pitchers. Generous portions of Sangria or Margarita will go down well with the crowd.”

The night is long, and getting drunk is rarely the agenda. So pack in a lot of ice with each drink, recommends Irfan.

To lend a “desi feel” with “surahis and clay glasses” could work. Serve in them lassi-based cocktails with vodka and strawberry crush. For a Sangria with a twist, Irfan suggests a blend of “white wine, red wine, chopped seasonal fruits, a dash of lemon and pudina”.

Clothes

A dazzling home with diyas and candles is not enough. You too must sizzle for the complete Diwali do.

Flattering femininity rubs shoulders with a lot of funk this season. And tradition wins hands down. Says designer Nil of designer duo Dev R Nil: “Indo-westerns have been ruled out. Women are loving it the pure Indian way.” Designer Soumitra Mondol agrees. “Ethnic is the look and the fabrics should be eco-friendly.” Jazz it up with “gold embroidery, antique mukaish work and matt gold sequins,” he adds.

Digital prints are big as well. Contrasts are no longer restricted to colours and have moved on to “fabrics, prints and patterns”, adds Nil.

Designer Agnimitra Paul seconds the mix-and-match mantra, and says the cut has definitely got to be empire line. While the length is long for the Anarkali cut in salwar suits, a straight-line silhouette would demand shorter length, she explains.

Colour is critical. “Play around with jewel colours” like gold, silver, ruby red, vermilion red, emerald greens, midnight blues, suggests Nil, while Soumitra bats for earthy bright tones.

Tunics are making waves on the fashion front, but don’t go the Western way by pairing them with leggings. “Team them with churi leggings, add on a dupatta,” stresses Nil.

If saris are your style, Western sensibilities meets Indian this season. So pick up corsets with sleeves or shrugs, collared blouses and puffed sleeves.

For men nothing substitutes the festive favourite — kurtas. According to Nil, printed kurtas are the trendy picks. “A sprinkle of handwork on the shoulder, elbow patches and neckline” is what will work best. The fit should be “constructed”, adds Soumitra, who strongly warns against kurtas teamed with “cheap viscose stoles”.

Cards

Cards seem to be out for Diwali — at least the ones that are sent by snail mail. “Cards for Diwali don’t see huge sales. Though we have cards ranging from Rs 4 to Rs 90, it’s those in the range of Rs 7-8 that sell best and are mainly bought by corporate houses,” explains Tapan Shaw, manager Giggles. Still, for those who haven’t gone the e-route, Lakshmi and Ganesha and diyas or coins are the pop picks of the season.

(What did you do on Diwali? Tell t2@abpmail.com)