Rakhee Gandhi, anchor and host of One with Raggs show
I was born and raised in the UAE and my forefathers belong to one of the oldest trading communities in the emirates – the Sindhi Thathai Bhatias. My entire family is based in Dubai. Diwali has always been an occasion to meet the whole clan across generations and exchange festive wishes. For us, the festival fervour really kickstarts with Dhanteras, an important celebration before Diwali, when it is considered auspicious to buy gold and silver coins or any metal trinket. This brings good luck and happiness for the family and at the workplace.
The shopping for traditional clothes, sweets and gifts begin much earlier. My kids Reisha and Vihaan enjoy the excitement that comes along with the festivities. We also have a tradition of making everyone’s favourite sweets at home for Diwali – my daughter loves pedas and my father-in-law enjoys milk pedas. We also make mawa barfis with saffron and nuts.
On Diwali, we do the pooja rituals, when over 50 of our family members come together to pray for prosperity and harmony. My sisters, who live in Bur Dubai, come to my home in Dubailand to do rangoli on these days. My mother who makes over a hundred varieties of sweets and savouries for the new year celebrations after Diwali, used to visit us with a few of her goodies. The whole year, we look forward to enjoying Diwali by doing these little things together.
This year, everything is going to be low key as we live with elderly parents and children. We are not planning to go anywhere or call relatives home for the pooja. We used to spend a lot of time going out on Diwali, so I feel this year we will save on those hours, and spend that much more time with our family. I have planned a few DIY activities with the kids so that they don’t miss out on the Diwali buzz – painting cloth masks, making healthy oats and nuts bars and having a barbecue in the garden. I plan to call my family on Zoom to see what they are cooking and virtually relish the flavours and create memories.
Dinesh Khiara, owner of Khiara Stores, Dubai
I live in a large joint family with four brothers, our kids and grandkids in Dubai, all under one roof, in two co-joined villas. Diwali, is a big occasion for us and preparations begin at least two weeks prior to the festival. It starts with the washing and cleaning of every nook and cranny of the home, even scrubbing and polishing the silver and copper vessels to eat the special festival delicacies made during these auspicious days. We also prepare a few typical Diwali savouries and sweets.
These recipes and traditions have been followed since the time of our forefathers and it’s heartening to see now our children keeping the customs alive.
On the day of Diwali the whole house is decked with floral buntings on doorways, with lights and diyas everywhere. We offer prayers, light a few sparklers and visit our friends. The day after Diwali, is the Hindu New Year. On this day we offer prayers and mark the day with certain rituals. A feast of 56 dishes are prepared as offering to deities.
This year too we will follow all the customs and traditions that we have been doing for years, only we will miss visiting friends. The pandemic has forced us to think and reflect deeply. This Diwali let us save for a rainy day, invest our money well, look at life positively, spend time with our loved ones and pray for the well-being of everyone on this planet.
Bhavika Makwana, Graphic Designer, Sharjah
For us Gujaratis, Diwali is one of the biggest festivals. The celebrations begin five days before Diwali when we start preparing a variety of savouries and sweets. As I live in a large family with my parents, siblings, uncles and aunts, we all take part in the preparations. Our entire apartment, from the entrance to the balcony, is adorned with diyas (earthen lamps). Making elaborate rangolis outside our doorway is a tradition I enjoy with my sister every year. On Diwali we offer prayers and seek blessings from our elders. It used to be followed by gathering with our friends and neighbours to burst crackers, while exchanging Diwali greetings and sweets. But this year all that will have to be put on hold as we need to comply with the pandemic restrictions. We would also have to forgo our annual Bur Dubai temple visit after Diwali.
This year, we would instead wish friends and family virtually. The pandemic does not mean we are not going to celebrate. So, we are all still very excited to start the celebrations, and enthusiastically participate in every small and big task towards a bright and luminous D-day.
Diwali is a festival of spreading hope, love and joy. And this year too, we would try to retain the spirit of Diwali with celebrations at home by doing beautiful rangolis, lighting up the house with many more diyas and flowers.
Indrani Bose, HR professional at Emaar
Diwali celebrations have always begun in our home with extensive cleaning and de-cluttering to ensure that the entire house looks tidy and bright adorned with festive lights and traditional diyas. Every year we will offer prayers and perform some typical rituals associated with the festival at home. This year our prayers will include wishes and hopes that the dreaded Covid is eradicated at the earliest.
On Diwali my home is full of mithais (traditional coconut ladooos are must for Bengalis and we call them Narus). As a custom they are distributed among friends after the puja along with some gifts. This year we want to eat healthy on Diwali, so all my sweets will be low calorie, the coconut ladoos will be made with jaggery instead of sugar, besan ladoos with less ghee and nuts. During lockdown, my husband learnt to make rasgullas at home, so this Diwali we will get to relish some homemade delicacies.
Diwali is incomplete for us without sharing sweets and visiting friends’ houses. Many of them used to come to our house to wish us too. But this year we will miss the partying and celebrating with friends as safety comes first. Everyone at home is looking forward to decking up the house, eating festive mithais and wearing colourful clothes. All celebrations will be with close family, respecting the laws of the land.
Seema Gvalani, finance entrepreneur, Dubai
Every year, I host a large Diwali party on my building’s terrace for my friends. We prepare weeks in advance to look our festive best for the party. The dress code is always Indian semi-formal. We have a DJ, photobooths and live cooking stations for grills and finger food. Friends would sing and dance into the wee hours of the morning. Last year, my daughter, who got married, threw a party in the garden of her building for both her friends and mine. The party was always the highlight of our celebrations and we organised it a few days before Diwali.
On the day of the festival we spend the day with the family offering prayers and preparing the Diwali dinner menu. Including spinach in the menu is a must and I usually cook it with other seasonal vegetables to dish out a popular Sindhi curry called Sai Bhaji. I also make dal makhani, vegetable biryani and paneer makhani for the dinner.
This year even as we look forward to Diwali, we are going to miss out on all the partying. I hope to invite just a couple of friends or maybe meet them in batches. We always wear new clothes on Diwali and on the day after it, so I have started the shopping. During lockdown, I learnt several recipes that I hope to treat my family to them on Diwali. I plan to make samosas, dal pakoras, rasgullas and besan ladoos. All other customs that I have been following through the years will be done this year as well such as decorating the house with fresh flowers, making elaborate rangolis and leaving the door open to welcome good wishes into our home.
Madhukar Tanna, COO, Pharmax Pharmaceuticals
Celebrations are about spending time with your close group of friends and family, believes Madhukar Tanna, a long time resident of the UAE. His family is not in Dubai at this time, but "close friends make up the void," he says.
With Diwali just around the corner, Madhukar remembers a time when he used to celebrate the festival of lights with gusto. "We used to have if not grand, large Diwali celebrations in our villa in Springs," he says. "We used to invite friends and family, burst some firecrackers, enjoy good food. Friends used to reciprocate the same and rounds of good food would continue until you got tired or put on a few pounds!"
He also remembers visiting Bur Dubai, "which has the unmistakable ambience of Mumbai suburbs during Diwali days".
This year though, he plans to ‘either invite some friends over or get invited to some friend’s place’ and witness the festivities. Since his children, Nirali and Neil, are grown up and overseas, "there are no fire crackers but certainly, more lights will be added in the already glitzy city like Dubai."
His mother is in India, and ‘perhaps I will give her a surprise, if I can, by visiting during this festive season,’ he says.
For Madhukar, the highlight of the festival is sharing the cheerful mood and celebrating with good food.
A memorable Diwali celebration was when he was living in Springs some 15 years ago. "It was a new house, new garden and we decorated it with lots of lights, enjoyed good food, burst firecrackers and had a good time with an extended group of friends and family," he says.
So, what is the one traditional Diwali dish that is a must-have in his home for the celebration?
"Not sure why, but Dahi Bhalla has been consistent," he says.
Vanita Bhatia, founder of DIVAlicious
For Vanita Bhatia, Diwali is about being with family and is a festival they all look forward to. Celebrations at the Bhatia household begin not on Diwali day but a week earlier. "My daughters paint and decorate the diyas, we make the rangoli and prepare chocolate barfi together which is their favourite Indian sweet," she says.
Despite the pandemic putting a crimp on celebrations, Vanita doesn’t plan to alter the rituals she and her family have been following over the years. "We will continue to celebrate just as we used to with this small ritual we have created over the years: offering our Diwali prayers and meeting immediate family over dinner."
For Vinita, whose extended family has been in Dubai since the last 60 years, Diwali includes visiting parents and other members of the extended family. "However busy we may be, we always have an Indian feast on this day," she says.
"The highlight of the celebrations is the week-long process of preparing for it by getting gifts and sweets for our relatives and family, cleaning, shopping, decorating our home with Rangoli and diyas." Diwali has become more special for Vanita since the birth of her daughters as the entire family now joins hands in preparing for the festivities. "Small things like decorating the house to making sweets and seeing them growing up each year to helping them understand and enjoy the festival is a blessing," she says.
This year though, respecting Covid social distancing protocols, she and her family will skip the get-togethers. "In previous years, the get-togethers would happen even a few days after Diwali," she says. "That won’t be so this year.
"But we all have learnt to appreciate and value the smaller things which has taught us to be content. Living in Dubai we are truly blessed that the pandemic has caused a much lesser impact to everyone here compared to globally and we are blessed we can celebrate our festivities."
So, what is the traditional Diwali dish that is a must-have in her home?
"My mother prepares a feast of sweets but the ones we relate to Diwali are barfis, jalebis and laddoos for which we don’t mind adding all the calories."
Puneet Sud, long-time UAE resident and model
A resident of the UAE since 1988, Puneet Sud is looking forward to celebrating this Diwali with a new member to his family. "My son got married recently so now our family includes my wife, son-in-law, daughter, son and his newly-wedded wife not to mention two lovely granddaughters," he says. His extended family in the UAE includes a couple of cousins and nieces.
Diwali celebrations at the Sud household usually begin with the traditional prayers followed by an ‘open house’, he says. This year, though with Covid restrictions in place, parties will be limited to the family members. "However the other festivities such as lots of good food, lighting sparklers with the kids and spending quality time with everyone will surely continue as always," he says.
But the one thing he is sure he will miss is not celebrating with friends. "That said, well-being and health is paramount for all and I am sure good times will soon be back," he says.
A significant takeaway of Diwali is good health and in times of the pandemic, restrictions on gatherings are key to every one’s well-being and safety. "So this year, festivities will be limited to family and very close friends," he says.
What are his most memorable Diwali celebrations?
"Weddings of our daughter and our son; birth of our granddaughters… these are all memorable milestone Diwali celebration years in our family," says Puneet, adding, being blessed with family, togetherness, health and prosperity are the highlights of any festival and ‘this is the same with Diwali’.
And the traditional Diwali dish that is a must-have?
"It has to be ‘Dahi Vada’ cooked in typical Punjabi style and besan barfi… both home-made."
Hema Kaul, owner, HK Label
Diwali to Hema Kaul has always meant having a small get-together and celebrating with family and close friends. "We do follow rituals and offer the traditional Diwali prayers, after which we exchange sweets," she says.
Decorating the home, lighting beautiful diyas and ensuring a festive atmosphere reverberates throughout the house are absolute musts as far as Hema is concerned.
"Celebrating Diwali is very special; it’s a time when everyone comes together to share food, particularly sweets, she says. However, quite like every one else, she too is upset how the pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works.
"Covid has definitely made it difficult but, respecting the social distancing norms and inkeeping with Covid regulations, I plan to have a small gathering at home during the weekend with my close friends and family," she says.
She has planned ‘good music; we have an amazing artist who will be performing live’ and good food. "There are a few people who I will be meeting after a long time and I am looking forard to the small get together."
Since her three children are away in England pursuing studies, Hema will be meeting up with her extended family. "I have a few cousins who live here and some special friends. But I will miss not having the kids here to celebrate with me."
As for must-haves on the special day, Hema is very clear: "We make all the traditional sweets and savouries for Diwali. My mom gets them made specially in India and sends it over to me here."
To Hema, the highlight of the festival of lights is about the family coming together to celebrate. The fun, joy and the positivity that comes about during and after this festival is what can add so much to life, she believes.
Sangeetha Bhalla, Dubai-based mother of one
For Sangeetha Bhalla, Diwali celebrations start with buying jewellery and utensils on Dhanteras. "This is an auspicious occasion to buy any kind of metal as it is believed to ward off evil and bring in prosperity," says the Dubai resident. The day of Diwali itself is spent decorating the house with Rangoli while prayers are offered in the evening before diyas are lit and, later, firecrackers are burst.
"Like all other festivals in India, food plays an essential role in Diwali too,’ she says, ‘and I make it a point to prepare some traditional sweets at home."
Gifting boxes of sweets to friends and families to wish them luck and prosperity for the coming days is another highlight of the festival, she says. "But the best part is when elders give money to all the younger ones at home… this is something that’s much awaited."
Respecting Covid restrictions, Sangeetha and her family plan to scale down the number of people at the Diwali parties. Although other traditional rituals such as decorating the house with lights, flowers and rangoli, and lighting diyas will be done this time too, the celebrations will be a tad muted. "It is a bit sad as we won’t be able to eat, have fun together with friends & family and socialise," she says.
For the mother of one, the charm of getting ready and going to work on Diwali day one particular year was the most memorable. "I remember one Diwali, we decided to celebrate it at work and every one came dressed in traditional wear, even those colleagues who do not celebrate Diwali. We all did a pot luck and got food from home, decorated the office. It was indeed a very memorable Diwali celebration."
This year though she will be missing that as she is working from home.
"This Diwali we are not going out shopping but have ordered most of the things online," she says. "Gold, sweets, clothes... everything has been bought online this year."
Is there a traditional Diwali dish that is a must-have in her home for the celebration?
"Oh yes," she says. "It’s jaleybi with rabdi. And also kheel, batashey and toys made of sugar."
Patricia Torres, Dubai-based mother of two
Patricia Torres has already adorned her home with lights and festive décor. There will be diyas and flowers on Diwali, says the mother of two. "Chat groups are abuzz planning festive menus but also safe intimate gatherings are being planned keeping in mind the current restrictions on gatherings. We have also planned virtual celebrations with family and friends to share our festive spirit despite the distance."
For Patricia and her family here that includes husband, mother and two daughters, Diwali is "my favourite festival".
Over the past few days she has been busy preparing goodies, cleaning and clearing the home and getting it festive ready. "The only thing missing this Diwali will be the hugs and closeness of loved ones, and hopefully better times will soon make up for this."
At her home, Diwali is usually a five-day celebration. "My husband, Amit Pateria, always recollects how the Diwali celebrations, when he was young, would start with Dusshera with prayers for nine days preceding it. Preparations and festivities for Diwali would start soon after Dusshera leading all the way to Diwali and then gyarahs – 11 days after."
In Dubai, though, the family celebrates it over five days – from Dhanteras to then Bhaiduj.
The main Diwali day starts with offering prayers together as family and then celebrating with extended families and close friends. "Our close set of friends have celebrated Diwali together for nearly 25 years," she says. Part of the celebrations include visiting family and friends and attending parties and gatherings. "We also exchange presents and home-made goodies."
The highlight of the festival though is spending time together. "Our extended families from around the world visit us virtually and our families and friends in UAE also get together and celebrate on numerous days, sometimes before and even after the actual festival."
Patricia’s most memorable Diwali was when one year she visited her husband’s home for Diwali. "It was such a lovely affair when his entire family and extended family met over five days of festivities. Beautiful Indian clothes, sweets, food, music, laughter and joy made for one on my most cheerful celebrations," she says.
She particularly remembers the Bhai Dhuj celebrations, the last day of the five-day-long Diwali festivities that marks the special brother-sister bond. "It was lovely to see my husband wake up early in the morning and visit all his cousins, while the sisters performed rituals and prayed for their brothers well-being. The underlying spirit of piety, love, and care was simply lovely to see."
This year though, with Covid playing spoilsport, meetings with extended family and friends are off.
"We will miss the smiles, hugs and laughter," she says.
Is there a must-have traditional Diwali dish for the celebration?
"We serve a thali where we have two or three starters, some 8 main dishes and two sweets, all home made. One of the sweet dishes is gujiya that my mom-in-law used to be the best at. Although it never turns out as good as hers, we do give her recipe our best shot."
Atinirmal Ghansham Pagarani, managing director, Yogi Group
For Atinirmal Pagarani and his family, a highlight of the festival of lights is offering prayers and seeking the Almighty’s blessings. "That and the fact that we are all there for each other is something we celebrate. For us at home, being united unconditionally is the goal of life and Diwali helps this bond grow even more blissfully," he says.
At the Pagarani household Diwali festivities usually mean a "marathon session of parties every day with lots of food, laughter, dancing and fun".
Being extremely sociable, he loves dressing up in ethnic wear on the day, visiting extended family and friends, exchanging sweets and gifts and "generally having a good time".
This year though, with Covid acting as a dampner, Atinirmal will be respecting social distancing regulations that are in effect. "The health and safety of all of us are important and I will be making sure that everyone acts responsibly especially during such blessed festivities," he says.
The ritual of offering prayers at the offices and home will continue as always, he says, but he makes it clear that there would be no get-togethers at the workplace ‘to avoid any risks.
"There will be a change in the buffet meal that the entire Yogi Group team usually enjoys together on a festive occasion; this year we will be going with individual food boxes," he says.
One of the things he admits he will miss this year during Diwali celebrations is the socialising. "I enjoy going out and meeting with friends and extended family. I am also a foodie so I will miss tasting the variety of dishes at my friends’ places."
For the father-of-two, every Diwali has been memorable. "Actually, we as a family – he has around 20 immediate family members – ensure we make it memorable," he says. "We keep setting the bar high for ourselves."
And what is the traditional Diwali dish that is a must-have?
"Saat Bhaaji which brings together seven (saat in Hindi) vegetables. It is flavourful and is a lunch or dinner ritual on Diwali. I do not really know the reason it is a must-have, but then who cares, it’s food. And I love it. It can be had with rice or roti, either of them."