By Bachi Karkaria
November 12, 2015
In the darkness of Kali Chaudas times we drag out every instance of the mosaic that is India. I dare not use that word ‘secular, now as loaded as a gun. As for ‘syncretic’, it belongs to a world of intellectual discourse, far removed from the emotional connect of community. We in the media strive to play up a Muslim enclave that never fails to celebrate Ganeshotsav with Mantra and Modak or Hindus steeped in the wisdom of the Quran. And, more than army flag marches and Aman committees, what stops communal riots is the intertwining of Hindu and Muslim threads in the skein of humdrum commerce. Fundamentalism will always have to bow to fundamentals.
This Diwali week i have treasured as never before the memories that surface at the sound of the first cracker. Like Pavlov’s dog, I salivate over a special childhood. It was spent right in the middle of Calcutta’s electric goods market, a sparkler burst away from the fireworks bazar, so the shopping for festive light and sound was hectic. Moreover, it was an enclave full of Gujarati homes and trading establishments. This mix would be joyously reflected in a resplendent Kantaben waddling over to us trays laden with savouries and silver lotas of doodh-pak, and Kantibhai’s mundane shop transformed by the ceremonial magic of ‘chopda-pujan’, the traditional red bound account books smeared with vermilion and turmeric.
However, in our Parsi house the frenzy began in October itself. The Diwali annual of our family paper, Navroz, took shape, the initial diya glow of anticipation rising to deadline hysteria. As in a baptismal font, i was plunged into ‘Diwali Ank-time’ almost as soon as I was born..
The Navroz was begun by my grandfather 1917. It was a Gujarati weekly, catering for a diverse conglomerate of communities speaking their distinctive versions of Gujarati and living far away from their concentrations in western India: the large Gujarati and Kutchhi sects, and the minuscule Bohras, Khojas and Parsis. For the weekly’s bumper annual, astute Edulji Kanga chose the major festival of his strongest subscriber segment.
A Gujarati paper in Bengali Calcutta; Hindu Diwali chosen by its Parsi editor for its ‘bumper annual’. There are more incongruities. The typesetting was done by callow Bihari migrants; Grampa-ji had to teach them not just this skill but the language as well. A separate, largely Bengali team typeset the paper’s smaller English section (for the city’s totally anglicized Parsis!).
That’s not all. My abiding association with Diwali is the ancient flatbed machine throbbing through the night, our 100-year-old-house, and my puny frame on the floor above. Feeding in the reams was the venerable Aziz Mian. The printed forms were transported to the binder, Khaleque Mian. On Dhanteras dawn, the crazed weeks would miraculously be replaced by the glossy stacks of the ‘Navroz Bumper Diwali Annual’. Proudly lugging it to its ‘well-wishers’ would be our UP Brahmin peon, Ram Naresh Mishraji.
One little journal, so many mingling cultural streams. And, oh i forgot, it all took place on a street named after a Jew, David Ezra.