Deepavali, an ode to all those boxes that come our way

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on October 25, 2019

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What is the festival without heaps of dabbas, a vague feeling of indigestion and the happy knowledge that there are more goodies waiting to be sampled

The doorbell rang a few nights ago. I opened the door to find a smiling young man, an enormous jute basket and the promise of Deepavali.

The jute basket was piled with the sort of goodies that only the festive season can justify. A sparkling elderberry drink. A bag of orzo. A bottle of very superior-looking olive oil (clearly not chosen because it was on a Buy One, Get One offer). Shortbread biscuits. Rosemary-flecked crackers. Dried mushrooms. A pot of mustard. All artistically arranged on a puff of pink paper.

Instantly, the house was filled with pink paper strips and gleeful squeals. For, at the risk of sounding as gluttonous as Bruce Bogtrotter from Matilda, I have an admission to make. We are a non-cracker-bursting, non-card-playing, non-sweets-making family. We don’t rush out to buy gold coins or flat-screen TVs on special offer. Our decorations involve lighting a dozen diyas and — in a year when we are feeling especially energetic — a clumsy attempt at rangoli.

Still, though, I love the festival. Partly for the bustle and bright saris on the streets; partly for the merry lights and school holidays. But partly — a big part of partly — for the gift boxes and hampers that arrive in a bright, glittery procession. Some swaddled in gold gauze. Others bedecked with tinsel flowers and multi-coloured tassels. As far as I’m concerned, the shinier, the blingier, the more they look like props from a mythological magnum opus, the better.

Years ago, the business of sending and receiving gifts was relatively shock-free. The standard gift was a golden cardboard box with four compartments and a shiny red lid. When you undid the golden ribbon, you pretty much knew what you would find: A small bag of cashew nuts, a companion bag of raisins and another of almonds. The only question was whether the fourth compartment would reveal the kernels of walnuts, pistachios or dried figs. Even so, every box was opened with saucer eyes and anticipation.

There was, of course, some variation. Some of the boxes held mithai. The most exciting of these, even if not the most delicious, were the ones bearing mithai pretending to be miniature pears, watermelon slices and blushing apples. Every couple of years, somebody would shatter tradition and give out chocolates — often boxes of Nutties that had travelled across the city in the October heat and emerged from the box in a congealed heap that had to be hacked out with a knife.

You certainly didn’t give cakes or cookies on Deepavali. That was appropriate for Christmas and the Parsi New Year. And you certainly did not give a hamper of basil pesto and Camembert cheese and health bars. You also didn’t give paan- and pani puri-flavoured chocolates because those peculiar hybrids had still not been born. Nor motichoor laddoos with a horseradish centre or chocolate chip pedas.

In general, you gave kaju and badam. And if you really liked the people you were giving kaju and badam to, or if you did lots of business with them, or if they had helped you get your second gas cylinder, then you gave them double the standard quantity.

Today, though, all those rules have been turned upside down. The gifts that whizz around the metros in cheerful tempos are wildly fancy, but not always wildly festive. There are beribboned baskets featuring gluten-free raw cacao truffles and organic nut butters. There are hampers of healthy brown rice snacks and ginger and lemon oat biscuits. There are jars of air-dried papaya and jars of organic jaggery.

Of course, there are those who cling to tradition and distribute glittery boxes of mithai but be sure to nibble before you gobble. Chances are high that the motichoor laddoo involves raspberry or Indonesian coconut; and that the mithai is flavoured with marmalade or infused with coffee.

So relentless are the forces of fancy that even the most conventional souls — the kaju, kishmish, badam crowd, in short — are capitulating. And last year we worked our way through jars of paneer tikka masala cashews, barbecued almonds, lychee raisins, dried guava and pizza pistachio with varying levels of enthusiasm. And the realisation that not every mix makes a match.

  • A healthy Deepavali snack that does not come out of a hamper
  • Ingredients
  • 1 cup of pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp oil
  • Method
  • 1 Heat the oil in a pan and add in the pumpkin seeds, the salt and toss them around for 10 minutes on medium heat. Add in the sugar and toss till the sugar coats the seeds.
  • 2 Spread the seeds on a baking sheet
  • 3 Put them in the oven at 110°C till they become crisp.
  • 4 After they cool, store them in an airtight jar.



Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and author

Published on October 25, 2019

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