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Here’s how India is celebrating a pandemic-era festive season

By Ela Das

 

To say this year did not go according to plan would not be an understatement, with most of our plans (quite literally) being kept under lock and key as we spent a majority of our time under lockdown or staying socially distant from the things we love to do. As more public spaces gradually and cautiously begin to reopen, will we see the upcoming festive season come alive across the country? Whether you’re planning a celebration at home with the entire family for Diwali or toying with the idea of jetting off for Christmas to bring in the new year in a new city, here’s how a few homes are chalking out their festivities which could inspire yours, too.
 

Celebrate Durga Puja digitally
“Being a Bengali and not being in Kolkata during Durja Puja has a way of pulling at my heartstrings,” says Mumbai-based Shreemoyee Moitra, who looks forward to physically being a part of the pomp, pageantry, spirit and grandeur of the pandals every year.

IN THE ABSENCE OF PANDAL HOPPING: “I am wearing new clothes on all four days of Durga Puja, as we’re traditionally meant to, and cooking every Bengali meal and delicacy I know,” she animatedly explains. To add to the festivities, her entire home is kept well lit with string lights and diyas, and she recommends getting an e-pass to catch all the big pandals that are streaming live online.

A photo of Shreemoyee Moitra next to a photo of food

Shreemoyee Moitra dressed up during Mahalaya and Baashonti Polao made by her on the first day of Durga Puja. Image courtesy, Shreemoyee Moitra

A young girl dressed in festive clothes

Sejal Bhagwakar's daughter Aadhya dances the garba every evening during the Navaratras. Image courtesy, Sejal Bhagwakar

 

Recreating Navratri at home for children
If you were to step into Sejal Bhagwakar’s home in Surat on any of the nine days of Navratri, you’d probably get pulled in by her precocious six-year-old daughter, Aadhya, to join her in a traditional garba dance. “She’s made it a point to dress up every evening, jewellery included, and makes the entire family join in,” laughs Bhagwakar.

HER ADVICE TO PARENTS: “Recreate whatever you can at home to indulge your child’s fondness for each festival and its customs. On Diwali, when planning the puja for your home make it a little more elaborate and inclusive for the kids to explore and discover more. By the end of the year, try planning a trip to a place that’s safe and close by, but avoid the main holiday dates which get swarmed with tourists.”


A family that’s reunited for Diwali
When Kashika Saxena moved back to her hometown in Jaipur after being in complete lockdown all alone in Gurgaon, she forecasted her stay, at the time, to not exceed more than a couple of months. “It's October, now, and both my brother and I are still here with our parents, and we aren't going back any time soon.”

FOR FAMILIES CELEBRATING TOGETHER: She recommends making the most of the time you suddenly have together. “If I was still in Gurgaon, and my brother in Bangalore, we'd have come home for around five days during the holidays, celebrating the rest of the season in our cities with friends. So, there is a sense of comfort spending this season with our parents and each other. All four of us haven't lived together in ten years, so this is quite special.”
 

When Diwali becomes the festival of giving back
Every year, Desiree Punwani finds her entire family back together at her home in Mumbai, where she throws a day-long Christmas party hosting her and her two daughters' friends. This year, however, one of her daughters won’t be visiting for the holidays, and the festive season looks quite different at her home.

HER ADVICE FOR A NEW FORM OF CELEBRATION: “While we are all physically apart, that doesn’t mean we have to socially stop enriching and celebrating our lives. Through my community Live to Give, a group of us have been giving back by providing rations and medical aid. What is especially exciting is sending gifts and care hampers as a thank-you to people on the frontline such as ambulance drivers, doctors, healthcare workers and nurses. 

A living room decorated with lamps

Recreating whatever you can at home will help indulge your child’s fondness for each festival and its customs. Image courtesy, Prachi Damle

During Navaratri, too, we’ve arranged for people to sponsor online pujas, which will pay for free meals for parents whose children are in hospital and cannot afford to feed themselves. At the end of the day we’re still going through a festive season—it is only how we choose to celebrate it that has changed.”
 

A table with flowers and gold accessories

“When planning the puja for your home make it a little more elaborate and inclusive for the kids to explore and discover more”, says Sejal Bhagwakar. Image courtesy, Prachi Damle

Plan a surprise for your partner this diwali
When Paresh Chheda and Sahil Wasudev realised they’d have to go into quarantine overnight in Pune this March, their first thought went to their families based in Mumbai. “For us, weekends always comprised driving down to Mumbai for downtime or any celebrations,” says Chheda, with Wasudev adding, “From November onwards, every year, we largely spend our free time in Mumbai because our closest friends and family start coming down for the holidays, which is what we look forward to the whole year.”

TO KEEP THEIR SPIRITS UP: The duo prefer to stay optimistic and enjoy their time together. “We have a couple of close friends in Pune, whom we meet to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or auspicious days. To break the monotony, both of us surprise 

one another with weekend road trips to nearby places such as Lonavala or Lavasa, which are relatively safer to visit.”

Rediscover diwali through a new city
“I am so happy to finally get to celebrate a festival in Punjab away from my family this year!” Karan Makhani exclaims, having recently moved back to Chandigarh for work after spending months at home with his family in Bareilly.

FOR ANYONE ALONE IN A NEW CITY: “Enjoy discovering the culture and traditions of the place. I’m finally getting to spend the Diwali season here after years of hearing about Punjabi hospitality and how well they treat their guests. While I do miss my parents, spending time with my friends here and their families has exposed me to their larger-than-life celebrations and the delicious, elaborate food they whip up for every party! I wouldn’t get to witness this if I didn’t live here.”
 

Festivals were created for a reason
If you were to spend Christmas, or any other festival, at Dr Annie Koshi’s get-togethers in her home in New Delhi, you’d never want to be anywhere else ever again during the holidays. While hosting her large family—comprising her siblings, the children and grandchildren—and even close friends, she always manages to have something for everyone at her well-thought-out lunches.

HER ADVICE FOR CELEBRATING WITH A BIG FAMILY: “Even pre-pandemic, I always found it important to bring the entire family together at least once a week,” she explains, while sharing a trick to keep everyone happy and coming back for more is always stocking their favourite foods or treats in the large spread. Encouraging optimism looking forward, she says, “I have 

A table styled with crockery, cutlery and food

“Stocking everyone’s favourite foods or treats in a large spread, will keep everyone happy and coming back for more”, shares Dr Annie Koshi. Styled by Ritu Nanda. Image courtesy, Prachi Damle

already begun soaking fruits for my Christmas cakes and will plan my Christmas lunch for the whole family as always. And, if things don’t go as planned, I will send these cakes to all my loved ones. Festivals were made for human beings to meet and share because we are social beings—to forget that and worry yourself sick is asking for trouble!”

Feature Image Courtesy

Sarita Handa

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