Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Delhi In October: The Magic Happens!

October brings with it a promise of deliciously cooler mornings and pleasant evenings, although one has to wait for almost the whole month for that to happen. It is only towards the end of this month that the weather Gods decide to smile on Delhi. The early days in October are pretty warm, but some time during the later half, the magic happens. If you wake up early in the morning and step outdoors, the air feels different. And you wonder, could this be the reason behind the smiles on the faces of those who are out at that hour...morning walkers in neighbourhood parks, newspaper delivery boys, parents taking their children to bus stops and people queueing up in front of Mother Dairy booths to buy milk.

Politicians make a mandatory appearance in the early hours on Gandhi Jayanti at the Rajghat, their pristine white khadi clothes looking brighter in the mild sun. It is a sombre occasion, repeated every year with customary piety; telecast with strains of Bhajans and occasional chirping of birds in the background. The Khadi Gramodyog Bhawan near Regal in Connaught Place announces its annual discount sale, providing khadi lovers with an opportunity to stock up on their favourite apparel. With the introduction of designer khadi, it is no longer the staid fabric it once was. It has come a long way from the days of the freedom movement, turning itself into a cool and happening material for designer wear.

Huge images of Ravana take shape in various areas across the city, complete with 10 oversized heads. As they near completion, they are mounted in large grounds; their enormous bodies stuffed with firecrackers. Two smaller figures of Kumbhakarna and Meghnad stand on either side of Ravana. On Dusshera, around dusk, these go up in flames, filling the surroundings with deafening sounds from the firecrackers as they catch fire. The colossal effigies start collapsing, symbolising victory of good over evil. This spectacle takes place at many locations, prominent among them being the Ramlila Maidan and the Subhash Maidan.

Karva Chauth, familiar to everybody thanks to Hindi movies, is a big day for married women. They observe a fast, praying for the well-being and long life of their husbands. One can see heavily made up women in most neighbourhoods, sporting bright red sarees or dresses, their arms full with glass bangles and palms covered with intricate henna designs. Looking at the evening moon through a sieve, they accept the first sip of a drink or the first bite of food from their life partners. This must have been a private ritual that families observed in the confines of their homes. But almost all our festivals are turning commercial and Karva Chauth is no exception. Shops selling women's merchandise announce sales and beauty parlours offer special packages for this festival, giving it a new dimension altogether.

Photo by nkjain [CC-BY-SA-2.0]
Talking of commercialism, the most commercial of all our festivals is Diwali; Christmas and New Year being a close second. With all the gift-giving around, the joke in Delhi is to never open the dry fruit boxes that you may have received by the dozen. One is not sure how long ago these were packed, and it is better to just pass them on to somebody, who in turn will do the same. Jokes apart, it is indeed a time for new clothes, sweets, holidays and get-togethers. The dark night is illuminated by millions of lamps across the city to the accompaniment of thunderous bursting of firecrackers. The trail of haze and smoke that is left behind late into the night is there to stay for the next few months, as winter is about to set in in Delhi.