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Thursday evening, DiploDad, the DiploBoys and I boarded the “Karma Tours” bus and set out for a fun Diwali evening. For those of you still in the dark about Diwali, refer to my Wikipedia links on my previous post – that should clear a few things up. Anyway, the Community Liaison Officers (CLO) set up a tour for those of us clueless newcomers who are still trying to figure out what Diwali is, how to celebrate it, the history, and where to go to catch the action. Bonus points for taking an air-conditioned coach in the middle of the hottest month of the year to go do it all.

We started the drive from the Consulate to South Mumbai, and wound up at an Indian department store called Roopam. http://www.roopam.com/default.aspx Five floors up, in the wedding and formal sari room, our tour guide, Mansi, told us all about the history of Diwali, and showed us a few of the things that were traditionally purchased for decorating for Diwali.

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After leaving Roopam, we walked down the street to Crawford Market. Crawford Market is awesome. You can get pretty much anything you want there – fruit, vege, tea lights, Ragu pizza sauce, and if you are truly in the know, chocolate chips. Things aren’t always obvious, however. It’s kind of like going to a hardware store in NYC – you go to a small storefront, tell the guy what you want, and he sends about eight other guys to go crawl the walls until they bring back what you want.

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During Diwali, the stores that rake in the most cash are the sweet and nut shops.

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Indian dried fruit and nut shops have many different kinds of roasted and flavored nut and dried fruit mixes, available by the kilo. There are also stores that sell imported chocolates (mostly Cadbury), biscuits (that’s cookies for you non-expat folks), and other foreign foods like instant coffee.

Shops wrap up baskets of assorted goodies (“hampers”) and folks buy them to give to friends, family, and neighbors for Diwali.

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I have to admit that this year I was a little unprepared for this. Next year, I resolve to do better and buy up a lot of hampers early.

As we were coming down one of the many aisles, a trio of cows started heading out way. No one was driving them, in fact, no human being responsible for them was visible anywhere.

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We started cracking jokes as they walked by:

“Hey, the running of the bulls!”

“Where’s your mommy, big guy?”

Me: “Yeah, running of the bulls. Some idiot always gets gored.”

And suddenly, the “idiot” I was referring to was DiploDad. Cow #3 took a dislike to him and began pushing him with its head, driving him into the stand next to him as he shielded DB2. It was like watching a train wreck, really – you’re not sure you’re seeing what you’re seeing, and not sure what to do. After a few more tosses of the head and a few pushes by DiploDad, the cow decided to move on.

“Well, we almost had a chance to do emergency training – and the entire nursing staff could have collected overtime.”

“What did you do? Eat his aunt?”

“I think this qualifies as a work-related incident, DiploMom, so you would have been compensated at a better rate.”

And finally – “you’re OK, right?”

DiploDad was OK, but the irony that my husband got gored by a sacred cow on a Hindu holiday was not lost on me. Is that good karma? Or bad? Hard to tell, but not having any injury at all, not even a scratch on him means that Lakshmi was definitely looking out for him.  We discovered later that he had two rips in his shirt and one in his khakis, but that was it.

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If anyone caught the incident on camera, they have yet to come forward.  Oh well.

Leaving Crawford Market, we passed by the offending cow, and DiploDad gave him a look. The cow was not impressed, swished her tail, and turned to stare him down. Cow 2, DiploDad 0.

We reboarded the bus and began driving through some neighborhoods that were known for their Diwali lights displays. Indians put up lanterns, lights, and decorate with bright colors.

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Some apartment buildings coordinate decorations so that every balcony has the same display.

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We arrived at a well-known vegetarian restaurant for dinner at about 7 p.m. It was packed, but Mansi knew the owners, so we were able to sit as a group and were given a reserved table. Often restaurants don’t take reservations during Diwali, so we truly lucked out. Before dinner was served, we were all given a marigold garland to wear. Dinner was awesome, and we had an awesome starter that we named “Indian Nachos”

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and a fantastic thali that included some traditional Punjabi cuisine such as navratan korma, paneer makhani, and raita.

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DB2, our resident veggie hater, had a rough start, but eventually started dipping his naan into the sauces and found a few he liked. I will admit to a giggle when I saw him taste something and immediately hop around in his seat while some of the older boys quickly poured him water. No spice reduction for the littles here.

Stuffed to the gills, we waddled back to the bus and headed off to Marine Drive, a stretch along the shore of Mumbai where everyone gathered to set off fireworks. We parked on a side of the road close to Chowpatty Beach, the bus blocking the side lane so we could stand in front of it and watch the opposite side of the street where the fireworks were being set.

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Fireworks in Mumbai are not for wimps. They really like “crackers”, the noisy ones that do not much more than emit a bang. Unlike the ones you buy in the U.S. though, these are massive. MASSIVE. Think of the ones we get – they are about the size of your pinky. Now, imagine one that is about six inches long and one inch in diameter. How loud is THAT??? Now, throw it into an oil drum to make that sucker echo and magnify the sound and you have an inkling of what just one cracker going off sounds like. Now imagine thousands of people setting these off, all night long, from dusk until dawn for seven nights and you have Diwali. The noise is unbelievable; it’s like living in Beirut during the Civil War.

It’s not just young men setting them off, although they did seem to be the majority of the fireworks engineers. It’s little kids about four years old, lighting massive fireworks that go up into the air and make a boom and a color display that would be the envy of any municipality on the 4th of July. If it’s regulated in the U.S., it’s probably available to a nursery school kid in Mumbai.

We watched for about 10 minutes when the fireworks started to be lobbed in our direction. Whether this was just an accident or intentional, I have no idea. After a few went off, showering us with sparks, one headed straight for DiploDad.

“Looks like a dud, it’s flying too low and not really smoking.”

“Nope, it’s not. It’s headed for DiploDad.”

“Shit!”

The “dud” landed about 3 feet away from DiploDad and exploded in the street in a shower of red sparks.

“Stay away from him, kids – he’s dangerous!” Sigh. Really?

Some of us, thinking that a little fireworks weren’t quite dangerous enough, crossed over to the median to set up their cameras and brave not only fireworks, but motorcycles and taxis.

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After a few more minutes, kids were yawning, mommies getting nervous, and the work week was hitting home and we all headed home. Arriving at our apartment building, we disembarked into the middle of a full-scale firecracker frenzy. Thinking the young men nearest to the bus would be reasonable, I asked them in broken Hindi to please stop for a second so I could get my sons off the bus. Their response was to light a cracker and throw it up over my head. Duck and cover drills have more than one purpose, apparently.
Our CLO took things into his own hands then and shouted, “STOP!!”

Surprised, the youths quit, and we all got off the bus and hurried to the entrance. By the time we got home and into our apartment, our poor dog was practically catatonic (or dogatonic) and if anything, the fireworks only increased over the next few hours. We wound up sleeping three in our bed, with the DiploDog sandwiched in between me and DiploDad.

Dangerous times aside, it was a fantastic evening. We fell in love with Mumbai a little bit more, and fell in love with Diwali. So much that next year, we’ll probably put off the Halloween decorations until after Diwali and do our own lanterns and rangolis. And if you know anything about me at all, you know that’s definitely saying something.

Happy Diwali!

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