“A typical Diwali morning when I was growing up”

The smell hits me before I can open my eyes. The smell of the freshly-made samosas, bhajias and spicy puri pathas waft through the house. I hear my Mother busying herself in the kitchen to make sure everything is perfect for the day ahead. I hear my Father shouting for a cup of tea and my Brother, as usual, is still asleep. This was a typical Diwali morning when I was growing up. 

“Food and a massive variety of it too, is at the heart of my Indian heritage, along with family and prayer.”

The baking and food preparations would have started a week beforehand with my Mum making her famous poli, which we all claim not to eat but end up devouring anyway. Then, I would start baking a few days before Diwali. This was after researching thoroughly but still managing to make a few flops. Finally, my Brother would swoop in and start baking at 9 pm on the eve of Diwali and annoyingly end up making the best delicacies. And of course, my Dad, who wouldn’t lift a finger in the kitchen but would tell everyone he made it all. Remembering these times always brings a smile.

Our Diwali parcels that we deliver to family and friends.

Diwali is one of the biggest celebrations in the year and for our family, along with the religious and cultural aspects, it centres around food. And quintessentially, all our best and most fun family times are the same. Food and a massive variety of it too, is at the heart of my Indian heritage, along with family and prayer.

A typical family get-together – LOTS of food.

“To me, food represents more than just a means to satisfy your hunger.” 

It means bonding and age-old traditions that are handed down from generation to generation. I recall when I was growing up and we would have certain prayers at our home, it would require a massive amount of preparation. This could only take place on the day of the prayer and would have to be completed early. This meant waking up at 2 or 3 am. But it never meant doing it alone. There would always be family around to help. This is where the secrets to making the perfect sweetmeats would be unveiled along with all the family stories. My Mum, Aunts and Grandmothers would catch up with each other in the stillness of the morning when the rest of the world was still asleep. When my Dad passed away recently, we were amazed at the kindness of our family and friends. There was a constant stream of food brought to our home and all prepared according to the rituals we had to observe.

In my world, fueling your hunger is almost the secondary purpose of food. To this day, there are still arguments about whether soji tastes better if eaten from the breyani plate, and if drinking dhall from a cup is socially acceptable. Whatever it is, I rate food as one of my favourite things about being Indian. That and our absolute love of colour. You will always find sarees, bindis and bangles in the most candescent of tones. An Indian wardrobe is always rich and vibrant in colour, and dressing up traditionally always holds a special place. 

Rich vibrant colours are a big feature in the Indian culture.

“Being Indian is synonymous with having large families.” 

My family, with just my parents’ siblings and their children and grandchildren, is almost 50 people and I think to some that may be a small number. This means that family functions are always loud and full of fun and laughter. I grew up with my cousins being my first friends and the nonsense we got up to was second to none. What I love about my family is that even though we don’t see or speak to each other all the time, we always have the comfort of knowing that if we are ever in need of anything, big or small, it’s no more than a phone call away. 

“Our beliefs and rituals shape and guide us through life.”

Prayer also forms an integral part of the Hindu culture. In many ways, this is our foundation. Our beliefs and rituals shape and guide us through life. These are filled with many complexities that I continue to learn about. One question that I have been asked is, “Who do you pray to?” And the answer to that is never an uncomplicated one. But, as simply as I can explain, in the Hindu culture, we have many deities that we worship. These deities represent various aspects of life. For example, the Goddess Lakshmi represents wealth and good fortune, the Goddess Saraswathi represents knowledge, and Ganesha or Ganpathi is the remover of all obstacles. These are but some examples of Hindu Gods and Goddesses but ultimately, we identify with Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the Holy Trimurti, who are respectively known as the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer. From this stem all other branches.

My family, with just my parents’ siblings and their children and grandchildren, is almost 50 people.

There are many intricacies to the Hindu culture and although I may not understand it all, there are two things that I have been taught from a young age: respect for our beliefs and the beliefs of others, and the adage, “Mata, Pita, Guru, Deva” which means “Honour your Mother, your Father, your Teacher and then the Divine.”

“Many things have changed over the years, but the essence still exists.”

On my Father’s side, I am the third generation to be born in South Africa. When our ancestors settled in this country, initially as indentured labourers, I would believe that little thought was given to what the future generations would be like. Today, almost 100 years after my Great-Grandfather arrived, our culture is still as rich and thriving as it used to be. Many things have changed over the years, but the essence still exists. This is thanks to the conversations and teachings of our elders. As the years will pass and the generations change, the hope is that this will continue so that in the years to come, someone may write an article detailing their memories about Diwali morning and smile in the same way.

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