Greets And Blessings Thru’ Trunk Calls During Deepavali Festivity

Diwali, the festival of lights is an important Indian festival. The people of Coimbatore have been enjoying many ‘Happy Diwalis’ over the centuries. Legends tell us that the return of Rama to Ayodhya was celebrated by the people by lighting lamps through the city. It was on the same day that Krishna and Sathyabama exterminated the demon Narakasura. Essentially it was the return of good times and a celebration of the victory of good over evil. The Ramayana culture has gone all around the world. In Fiji, for the people of Indian origin, the Ramayana in the form of Ramacharitamanas probably holds more value than it does even for the people of India. There were times when the indentured workers of Indian origin were forced to sing ‘Rani Ki Jai Ho’ or ‘God Save the Queen’. The Indians used to respond by saying ‘Maharani Ramayana Ki Jai’. Therefore it is continued to be known as Maharani Ramayana in Fiji.
A lot of Indian chronicles stored in the form of manuscripts were lost and thanks to Tamil Thaatha U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer, we have regained much. The people of Coimbatore and T.A.Ramalingam Chettiar in particular had a strong connect with him. Let us now briefly travel into the past and take a look at the celebrations of the yonder era. The old lamp posts were fixed with lamps and oil everyday. Diwali was special and the sales of oil used to soar at that time. People used to buy oil for their lamps, for cooking and for their hairwash. The hand pressed oil manufacturers would be busy prior to Diwali. The women of the household used to make sweets and savouries at home in the company of their near and dear. Chats, gossips, scandals, marriages used to take place during the time. Women used to take back some issues and thoughts to their beds in the night. It was akin to a child holding on to her doll before going to sleep. Newly married girls and their young husbands used to come by carts to celebrate Diwali back home. The parents would have gone with pakshanam and gifts in order to bring the newly weds.
My great grand father P.A.Raju Chettiar had founded his business in this atmosphere at the time of the first world war in 1917. Over time, Diwali was a moment for stock taking. He used to sit along with his brother Ramaswamy at home and weigh all the ornaments on hand. The brothers used to prepare a statement of accounts also. Their mother Subbulakshmi Ammal used to sit on swing with a hand fan and observe the progress of her young sons. I remember my great grandfather telling me that his mother would want to know how much of the gold belonged to family and how much was owed ! It was a time when lamps had to be lit in the house for the city was yet to receive electricity fully. Some parts received some for the lights because of the efforts of Swamikannu Vincent.
Diwali was the time for shopping clothes, jewellery and watching movies. Haridas, starring M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar had done three Diwalis those days. It was a super doper hit. The mill employees of Coimbatore used to get ‘initial rings’ for their sons in laws for their ‘Thalai’ or first Diwali. They used to bring their daughters, sons in laws and choose the design personally. It used to weigh between four and eight grams. There are boom time bonuses too and it was possible to get a three sovereign with the bonus amount those days. Bonus talks and issues connected with it would be reported in the papers. Sometimes strikes used to put things out of gear. People used to talk about the release of huge sums into the market because of the bonus. Banks used to give bonus loans to the mills and these loans had to be repaid within one year. One mill had taken a ‘change’ loan or ‘Sillarai kadan’ for giving bonus and they distributed it in the form of coins. The bank had given away the hundi collection of a big temple as a ‘change’ loan to the mill !
India had become poor under the English and the newly free country took quite sometime to see economic progress. Ideology made people wait for development. I remember the poor seeking the used clothes of the well to do for themselves and their family at the time of Diwali. The household help in our house would request us to give our used clothes for it used to be new because we were growing up fast. Mummy used to oblige. Thanks to the liberalization post 1991, lots of more people are able to afford new clothes. I remember our household helps Lakshmi and Giriammal telling us about their new ‘dhaavanis’ (half sarees) that they used to purchase for Diwali and watch new movies. They used to get the tickets or passes in the family owned ‘Raja Theatres’ and enjoy the new movies. Later they used to tell us the stories in order to make me and my brother Suresh eat our meals quickly. One Mariamma used to watch all the movies even in her ripe old age and she used to be my brothers nanny. She used to tell us that ‘Kannu Erukira Veraikkum Than Kankatchi’ (one can see the shows only while the eyes were there).
Our household was known for its very grand Diwali celebrations. We used to shop for ourselves in Fashions Silk House, Mahaveers, Tharakaram, Balaji Binny Textiles, Sri Rajeswari Hall and Venoo & Co. My grandmother’s brother S.P.Ramanathan used to bring the best of Conjeevarms from his ‘Gopala Padma Vilas’ in Salem. All the younger women used to get one pattu saree, one silk saree and one ordinary saree which will be nylex or chiffon. Cotton was for summer. The tailor Kumar used to stitch for all the women. Great grand father would get his clothes from Khadi Craft and tailor Sarangam used to stitch it for him. Great granny Rajalakshmi did not want to disturb the kids early morning and therefore Diwali was celebrated the previous night itself. They used to place the new clothes on silver covered palagais and keep kumkumam on them and offer arathi in the pooja room. Later on, the women used to apply oil on the heads of the kids, keep a pottu on the forehead and help them have a ‘Ganga Snanam’. The first sweet eaten had to be a home made laddoo. Crackers would take over later. All our drivers and shop staff used to help us light the kambi mathapoos, flower pots, vedis, sanguchakram, parachutes and rockets. The snake, caps from Sivakasi were popular. Grand uncle Viswanathan used to buy a big stock or crackers and the show stopper used to be a ‘10000 saravedi’. The people of Vysial Street used to wait for this year on year. The elders used to give us some money to spend but we used to put it into a piggy bank or the combination lock hundi at home. The cute pink pig hundi became too heavy and tits sole used to show the strain. New one rupee or rupee bundles of higher denominations were given to us. I still have a few of them in my collection.
The Diwali day was for watching movies and movies only. I remember watching three movies on Diwali. My friend A.R.Srinivassan and myself watched many movies this way. There was a clamour for the Deepawali Malars or the special issues of magazines those days. We used to get Kalki, Kalaimagal and the Amudhasurabhi Deepawali Malars. Granny used to read it fully and I began to read Tamil that way. The special editions used to carry nice sketches of Gods, people etc., I remember Gundoosi (a magazine) Radhakrishnan personally coming over to distribute the copies in Big Bazaar Street. Our shop, P.A.Raju Chettiar and K.R & Sons used to regularly advertise in Gundoosi. I remember a particular incident that used to be narrated. Our family had been into movie distribution and we had a huge stock of prints with us. The sub urban touring talkie owners used to release some old movies at the time of Diwali. One lady had suddenly landed up on the Diwali evening with a complaint. The MGR movie given to her just had the song ‘Vetri Meedhu Vetri Vandhu Ennai Cherum’ and nothing else. The audience damaged her theatre and she had come running to get the rest of the movie! It had happened by mistake. One Lakshmana Iyer used to get us the movie tickets for Diwali and he used to take note of our requirements in order to book tickets. He would also be waiting in each of the theatres. Icecreams and snacks of one theatre used to be served in another and we were lucky to have that privilege.
Mill owner V.S.Sengottiah of Sharadha Mills used to distribute clothes to hundreds of the urban poor at the time of Diwali. V.N.Ramachandran of Premier Mills used to come up with fresh bundles of five, ten and twenty rupee notes in order to tip the club boys every year. Later Pricol became famous for its high bonuses given by its founder D.Vijaymohan. My great grandfather and other members of the family used to give money and clothes to whomsoever came home. A set of Andhra people used to be given clothes every year. We used to be given money and coins as gift by our elders. It was received after seeking a blessing. Granny Lalitha used to anoint us with temple prasadam kumkumam. I remember her calling up her sisters, sisters in law over phone and wishing them. Trunk Calls used to be made. She used to seek the blessings of her mother who lived at Salem over the phone itself !
Mill owner V.Radhakrishnan of the Radhakrishna Mills family used to engage a contractor and he made excellent sonpapdi at his house. This was distributed to his near and dear. It was by far the best sonpapdi those days. Sri Krishna Sweets, Sree Annapoorna, Nellai Lala, Bombay Anand Bhavan, Dhirajlal. D. Mithaiwala used to sell a lot of sweets. A number of cotton, yarn merchants used to invite their clients for the Diwali Lakshmi pooja every. I remember the invite of M/S Pannalal Ramkumar particularly. The mill owners used to attend these ‘Lakshmi Poojas’ in the offices of the textile merchants. They began the tradition of giving dry fruits at the time of Diwali.
Lots of people would quit their jobs and seek a new one after Diwali. The bonus had to be collected and that’s why. I remember seeing the list of Tamil movies released between one Diwali and another. One particular year it was nearly 120 and the actors Suresh, Nalini had acted in the maximum number of movies. The KG Theatre came up and all of us used to get our Diwali tickets from the family itself. R.Prabhu, the son the of the Managing Director R.Ramakrishna Naidu used to patiently get our wishes fulfilled. I think I saw ‘Guna’ and also ‘Varumaiyin Niram Sigappu’ at the time of Diwali.
Diwali was fun and frolic for all of us. We enjoyed it thoroughly and used to wear ‘colour dress’ to school next day. Unlike now, the uniforms were white and white or khakis.
Therefore we were permitted to wear ‘colour dress’ to school in order to enjoy the Diwali in school also.
The Kasi Annapoorneshwari Temple has a laddoo alankaram inside the sanctum on Diwali and nowadays Annapoorneshwari Temple founded by industrialist Ravisam has the same decoration regularly. The devotees are given laddoos in the evening. May everyone enjoy a Happy and Prosperous Diwali.
—Rajesh Govindarajulu

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