When it comes to festivals in Mumbai, Diwali is the sweetest of them all said the mirror on the wall. With 14 Diwali treats to bolster the case.

The 13 stars of this story.
Left to right: Gujarati Mathia, chorafali, Sindhi dry fruit halva
Chakli, karanji, shakadpada, pohe, sev. Maharashtrian Diwali faral
Apple pie, almond rock, dry fruits and Marathi rava and besan laddoo

It was our first Diwali in the apartment complex in Mumbai's Bandra that we moved into about five years back. I had just woken up that morning as the bell had been rung rather urgently. K answered the door and then came back to the bedroom and told me what had happened.

Apparently two little boys were at our door. Brothers. The tinier of the two, who was around 3 years or so old then, looked up at her and said in a rather firm voice, "we are from the fifth floor." He repeated this a few times like a man on a mission. His parents had given him a tight brief and he was living up to that. His elder brother looked embarrassed, as elders brothers do when accompanied by their younger ones, and handed over a sweet box and the two scooted off after screaming, "happy Diwali."

This 'welcome to the society' from the two young gentlemen worked like magic and we too now have the good fortune to call this building our home.

The two of them were at our door yesterday too. The tinier one is still tiny. His brother has grown a lot taller and is possibly a pre-teen. They are both very well behaved and courteous.

This time I was the one who opened the door for them. "Happy Diwali," they said in unison. The tinier one rather exuberantly. The elder one in a more sombre tone, trying to look all grown up and dignified. They are Gujarati and their parents had sent the majestic dry fruit Sindhi sweets from Tharu's, Khar's legendary Sindhi sweet shop, as they do every year.

The bell rang again. This time it was an apple pie sent by our neighbour who is Sindhi. It seems to be a tradition with her as she had sent one last year as well and the pies are rather scrumptious. I loved it as did my mother in law who, in her words, likes everything 'soft and yummy'. The doorbell rang again later in the day. This time it was dry fruits from our neighbours upstairs. Then once again in the evening.

Our Maharashtrian neighbour from the ground floor was there with a big box full of Diwali faral. This time K had opened the door while I missed meeting him. He usually comes over in the morning and I look forward to this box every year. And wishing him of course!

He had grown up in this building. I wonder if this now white haired gentleman had once gone around as a kid, like our little friends whom I had spoken of at the start, going from apartment to apartment in this building carrying faral on behalf of his parents.

While going past their apartment today, I saw his wife and his children pack more boxes to be given out. "Neighbours first, friends and family later," her husband had once explained to me about their Diwali gifting routine.  His wife had made the sweet treats this time. The delightful karanji, shakadpada and the laddoos. The rest...chakli, pohe, sev... was ordered and of excellent quality too.

More goodies came in from friends from the world of food. Gujarati papads - mathiya and chorafali - which I had never heard of before and loved on trying. Another had made and hand delivered exquisite chocolate almond rocks which met K's very high standards in chocolates too, along with makhana and muesli in a beautiful blue jar.

Appendix: Turned out that I had published this post prematurely. Another ground floor neighbour came up with a smile and a big bag of chocolates which K took in as I was not around. So here it is and I have changed the title to 14 from 13

Lavish boxes came in from restaurants and hotels too. At times their own staff come and deliver these and I have a rather embarrassing story on that from two years back.

It was the evening before Diwali and my then yoga teacher had come to conduct a session. We had reached the end of class and it was time for savasana or guided relaxation. I shut my eyes and surrendered my self and my senses to nature and at the end to slumber too.

"Open your eyes slowly," I heard my teacher say. I did so. I saw that it was no longer dusk. That night had set in. I turned to my left. I saw my yoga teacher standing and looking at me intently. Then to the sofa set. We were doing the session in the drawing room. On the sofa I saw a young gentleman in a black suit and tie and white shirt and a lady in a rather dressy sari sitting with impassive faces. They had come from a five star hotel to deliver a gift box.

I had not heard them come in. My yoga teacher had opened the door it seems and did not let me come out of my spell. They smiled bashfully at me. I smiled back even more bashfully, wishing that the yoga mat below me would open up and swallow me. I wonder till this day whether they had decided to leave the hotel industry after that bizarre evening and move to something more routine such as banking or even the army instead!

I wish I had pictures of all who gifted us the Diwali treats but the pic below is one of the person who started it all this time. Dr Jyoti, my physiotherapist, who has been working on strengthening my lower back over the past few months. All the long copy you see my write and the toned look in my pics is thanks to the meticulous care that she has brought to our sessions. In the picture you can see her with the excellent Diwali faral that she had got for us. Made on order by a lady who works in the house of others and who did a splendid job of it.

Dr Jyoti, the faral Santa

It is in Mumbai that I got to celebrate the festivals of others through the generous gifts of food that they sent. Biryani, sheer korma on Eid and gigantic Gujarati jalebis too. Marzipan, jujube and Guava cheese with the occasional East Indian sorpotel on Christmas. Puran poli on Gudi Padwa, the Maharashtrian new year. Mava nu boi (a fish shaped dessert) on the Parsi new year. Halwa puri channa on Ashtami  and kada prasad on Guru Parab from the Punjabis.

I love this all but I do feel that none of these occasions match the overwhelming and overarching spirit of festive cheer that engulfs Mumbai on Diwali. Which is why I call the Diwali the sweetest of them all.

Mumbaiyya pay it forward

We too got into the spirit of the things recently and now send boxes of kheer kodom on Bijoya at the end of Durga Pujo for our neighbours.

The next morning got back a bar of chocolate with a ribbon wrapped around it and handwritten note of thanks from an Austrian lady who has moved into our building. "Sweet greetings from Austria," she wrote.

I guess we had done our little bit in passing on the spirit of Mumbai to its new settlers. That made me happy.

Here's wishing you a happy Diwali folks, new year (to the Gujaratis), bhai dooj/ bhai phota and any other festivals that I might have missed out.

PS: I called today's lunch the 'ghosts of Kali Pujos past,' on Instagram. We had a rare mutton curry and rice lunch at home today which also happens to be Kali Pujo. This is a combination that we would often have on the occasion back home in Kolkata. And on Sundays too which it is today.

To bring home the aromas of Kolkata to Mumbai, I even added a bit Jharna ghee to the local ambe mohar rice at the finish and mustard oil to the curry. The curry was made in a pressure cooker just as it used to be in my mother's and my grandmother's kitchen. The mutton, which was from Jude's Cold Storage at Bandra's Pali Naka, turned out to be satisfyingly tultule (tender). 

This is not 'niramish' and had onions. The traditional goat curry on Kali puja doesn't have onions apparently though the one cooked in our house did but that was not for a puja or any ritual. Just by my didu for her grandkids and children who would get together on the occasion and burst crackers at night. My curry had tomatoes, ginger, garlic too. I did not add chilli powder. Just turmeric, cumin, coriander, black pepper, garam masala powders blended with a bit of dahi. 

The resultant curry was quite soulful and approved off by the missus too. Gosht nu ras is how the Parsi in her knows this curry. 

Mangshor jhol bhaat. Kali Pujo special.


Blasts from the past

My story in DailyO about how Mumbai made me its own during my first Diwali in the city
My story in NDTV Food about how my friends in the food writing community across the country celebrate Diwali
My story in NDTV food on my Kolkata Kali Pujo memories and about how Diwali is celebrated in Diwali
My story in Scoopwhoop about the Maharashtrian Diwali sweet traditions