Dummy’s Guide to Diwali Socialising
[This articles was published in the Times of India, Crest Edition today (10 November 2012). The e-version is available here]
Diwali is the season of joy for most Indians, except the unlucky ones who end up celebrating the festival on the road visiting relatives and friends. In that sense, it is a most stressful festival. On lesser occasions, you can just get up, post a ‘What a wonderful day. Happy <insert secular festival> my beautiful people’ on Twitter and Facebook, get a dozen likes, and happily watch your downloaded torrent of the latest Salman Khan movie over aloo paranthas. No sweat.
Not on Diwali, when apparently you need to go and actually meet people. You need to be social, and not on social media, which seems a bit counterintuitive, but what will you do. So come Diwali, and everybody needs to visit everybody they know. The roads take a pounding, more petrol gets consumed during the festival than Coke and Pepsi, and road rage reaches I’ll-insert-the-gear-stick-up-your-behind-if-you-honk-one-more-time levels. But you grin and bear it.
The festival was started to celebrate Ram returning home after killing Ravan. In modern times, it is still a celebration of returning home after spending what might seem like a lifetime in traffic jams. Here’s some helpful tips to help survive the Diwali season.
First and foremost, plan. Planning can solve most problems, except maybe how to make Rahul baba say something intelligent in public, but let’s not go there. Make three lists. The first one of people who can be wished on Facebook – college friends, coworkers, son of the bua of the massi from Jalandhar whom you last saw a decade ago, etc. A second list of people you need to visit but who aren’t that important so you can just pass on the gifts you didn’t like, like toasters, bed-sheets, alarm clocks or that 3 pack of Amul Macho underwear the neighbor gave. The last and most important list would be of the real VIPs – close family, the boss from office, rich clients, basically people whom you either truly love or those who can get you money, fame or Twitter followers.
Now for the actual trips to visit people. Here’s a pro tip. Don’t worry about their convenience. Only people with self-confidence issues or the newly returned ones from America with fake accents and funny concepts of manners etc call upfront to let them know they’re coming. For Diwali, you are allowed to go at any time. Any. Best is before 6 am or after 10 pm, when the roads are clear. As they open the door rubbing their eyes, still in night clothes, you can always explain that you got stuck in traffic, which is like the Brahmastra of Indian excuses. As an added advantage, very likely they won’t even ask you to stay. Win-win situation. Hand them their gift, do a namaste, say Happy Diwali, and return home. Or on to the next target. It’s a bit like hunting. Timing is important.
Needless to say, you would run a computer simulation to figure out the minimum number of trips that let you cover all parties while traveling the least distance. With a liter of petrol being more expensive than a small pack of soan papdi, you need to be extra-careful. It might even be worth hiring a Computer Science PhD to help out with this.
Regardless, you’ll still be out on the road for long durations. Make sure your car is well stocked with food, water, a warm blanket and night clothes to change into in case you spend the night stuck in a traffic jam on Ring road. If you’re out on Diwali night, make sure you carry a laptop and a Reliance data card. God bless technology for facilitating Diwali pujas over Skype.
Every house you visit, you will be served a glass of some sugary drink, cookies, a piece of mithai and dry fruits. Do Not Overeat. You’ll be doing this multiple times. Pace yourself out. Also, keep Hajmola handy. Just take a few sips from the glass, make small talk about the weather, their recent home renovation and how much it cost them (Punjabi families like that) and prepare to head out. Staying for about ten minutes is fine. Too little and they’ll think you didn’t give them enough importance, even if they are counting down those ten minutes as well. Too long and you become an annoyance. It’s a delicate balance.
An excellent idea is visiting when only the children are home. Then you are allowed to give the gift at the door and leave, asking them to let papa know that uncle stopped by to wish happy Diwali.
In terms of gift ideas, there’s Haldirams and Cadbury Celebrations gift packs, which in my opinion should also come with a voucher for a dentist visit or at least a month’s supply of diabetes medication. Sweets are risky, what with news of adulteration and urea and assorted fertilizers in them. If you do get a box of barfi, sprinkle it on the grass in your lawn. Or as a bait to kill rats.
As the saying goes, if you hate a Diwali gift, pass it on to someone else. If it comes back to you, it must’ve been truly hideous. If you absolutely detest someone, give them something personalized. Mugs with a family photograph. Calendars. A big 3’ by 4’ family photo in a golden frame. They will never be able to pass it on. Works with worst enemies. And closest friends.
But if you really care for someone, give them a gym membership. And delete their Facebook and Twitter accounts. They’ll probably never talk to you again, but this might be the best possible gift you could give.