Raju Shroff, MD, Regal Traders
"The joy of Diwali is celebrating it with the people you love," says Raju Shroff. "This year is going to be just that – prayers at home, decorating our house, making and sharing sweets, and, of course, spending time with the family."
The managing director of Regal Traders and his immediate family that includes his wife and two children, usually celebrate Diwali with the customary prayers. "The festival of lights is also a time for get-togethers of family and friends at home and celebrations at office," he says. "The festival is often an opportunity to meet people whom you do not meet on a regular basis."
For Raju and his family the highlight of the festival is the fact that entire family comes together for the pooja (prayers). "That has how it has been all through these years and luckily this will not change this year too," he says, adding, "I hope that this festival brings light and healing to the world."
Is there one thing that he is going to particularly miss during this year’s celebrations?
"Opening our home to gatherings of family and friends," says Raju, who started off as a trainee in the Regal Group and is now responsible for strategically steering and consolidating the company. With the Covid pandemic still lurking around, he does not want to take any chances and will be respecting the protocol regulations in place regarding social distancing. Large gatherings will be shunned and only the immediate family will be in attendance for the various rituals and celebrations at home.
"The large, fun gatherings of extended family and friends will surely be missed," says Raju, who admits to having "so many happy memories associated with Diwali celebrations that it is difficult to name just one".
Since food, particularly sweets, is a mainstay of the festive celebrations, what is the one traditional Diwali dish that is a must-have in his home for Diwali?
"Without doubt, it is kaju katli (an Indian sweet made with cashews)," he says. "That’s a favourite."
Yogesh Mehta, founder and CEO, Petrochem Middle East
Diwali has always meant double celebrations for Yogesh Mehta, founder and CEO of Petrochem Middle East. "In the morning we offer prayers in the office followed by a lunch with the staff and the evening is spent with the family at home," he says. "Years ago, at our Jebel Ali office we would construct a large marquee to serve a sumptuous Diwali lunch to over 250 of our staff members, and each received a gold coin as a special gift. This year as we are celebrating our 25th anniversary year, we are in the process of minting a commemorative gold coin with our logo for our employees."
Everyone puts on their traditional Indian festive wear during Diwali, he says, while the entire office is decked with flowers and rangolis. "A homemade sweet of wheat flour and nuts is also served to everyone in the office," he says. "This dessert is a traditional recipe made at our home on all auspicious occasions.
"In the evening at home we offer prayers with the family and our home staff, burst crackers, take pictures and then head to our friends’ homes with gifts only to return late at night.
"This year we all have to accept the new normal, while maintaining the sanctity of the festival. Celebrations will be downsized, nobody will be partying but we are all going to wear festive clothes, offer prayers, decorate the house, make rangolis and enjoy traditional festive food. At our office, only my wife and I will perform the pooja with the priest. Lunch will be served in batches to our employees, taking care of social distancing norms. Even in this situation we should continue the celebrations and be happy, spend time with our families and hope for a great Diwali next year as the vaccine is on its way and remember that pandemics don’t last forever."
Sameer Jain, CEO, Home Centre
For Sameer Jain, this will be the quietest Diwali in the 15 years he has been in Dubai. Keeping the health and safety of family and friends in mind and respecting the guidance of the UAE government, he plans to celebrate Diwali at home in Dubai with just family members. "Mum and dad are visiting from Delhi, and will be joining us – my wife and two kids – for the festivities," he says.
Apart from the traditional rituals of decorating the house with lights, Diwali for his family also means "making the rangoli, dressing up in new clothes and offering prayers to thank for our blessings and hoping for good health, happiness and wealth for the family and loved ones. This is followed by a simple festive meal together with everyone in the family, and everyone getting Diwali gifts and blessings from parents."
Since the 15 years that he has been here, Sameer has been celebrating the festival with four of his MBA batchmates who relocated with their families to the UAE in 2005-06. "All four of us have been celebrating Diwali together most of these 15 years at one of our friend’s houses, while Holi lunch every year would be at our house. For the last 4-5 years another friend who relocated with family from the UK has become part of these festivities. If we are visiting India for Diwali, it’s a week or two of craziness but we get to meet extended family and childhood friends reminiscing about the fun experiences and stories from many decades of togetherness," he says.
During pre-Covid times, festivities would kick off 2-3 weeks before Diwali with Thursday night or Friday night dinners and parties with a larger social circle of work colleagues and friends. "We’d burst crackers with the children, indulge in mindless banter or serious debates on current affairs, dance a bit, interspersed with good food – generally have fun. Some of these parties would go on till the wee hours of morning."
So, what is the highlight of the festival for him and his family?
"Three generations of the family being together and celebrating with close friends... that is the highlight," says Sameer.
The CEO of Home Centre admits that he misses social gatherings with former and present colleagues, and his extended circle of friends. "I truly miss that the most," he says. As for the traditional must-have Diwali dish it is "moong dal khichdi and khoya burfi; in my family these are the two dishes everyone starts the celebratory meal with".
And what is his most memorable Diwali celebration?
"That would go back to childhood days when we were living as a joint family in Delhi and 10 cousins with another 10-20 friends living together in the same neighbourhood would burst crackers together, go to eat the best of the meals at each others’ houses, play cards all night and return home the next morning," he says.
Bharat Bhatia, CEO, Conares Steel
One of Bharat Bhatia’s most memorable Diwali celebrations was when he and his family shifted to their new house in Dubai some 15 years ago. "Moving to our new place was a truly happy moment and what added to the celebrations was an absolutely lovely gift that an elderly family member gave us. We still have the gift with us," he says.
Diwali, the festival of lights, is a festival that Bharat and his family celebrate with great gusto every year. "Days before the actual festival, scores of friends and family members visit us – at least around 200 people. This is a custom that we’ve been following for as long as I can remember," he says. Bharat and his family would also call on close family and friends in the run-up to the festival. "Diwali is an occasion when we can meet up with family and extended family that we have not met in a while," he says. "So it is a special occasion."
This year, however, he, like all socially responsible citizens, has decided to keep the guest list to the minimum respecting Covid regulations related to social gatherings. "Only my close family and very few friends are likely to meet up," says the businessman, who has made UAE his home for over 38 years.
He admits that this year’s Diwali is going to be different "compared to any we have celebrated".
Normally, the festival day begins with prayers following which the family exchanges gifts. "We then visit a few close family members and seek their blessings," he says.
Once the customary rituals and prayers are over, Bharat, who admits to having a sweet tooth, digs into the special dishes that are prepared especially for the festival. "We are Bhatias and we have some special classic Bhatia recipes, which include some mouth-watering sweets," he says.
If in earlier years they used to prepare the sweets in large volumes, this year he has decided to go easy as he would not be able to share it with more friends and family members due to restrictions. "All sweets are prepared at home," he says. "The recipes which my grandmother and mother followed are now being prepared by my wife and daughter-in-law," he says.
And which is his favourite?
"There is a particular sweetmeat that is made with almonds, milk and sugar among other things. That’s really delicious," he says.
"Celebrations and festivals are always lovely and special, and this time I am happy to be celebrating with my granddaughter," he adds.
Harish Tahiliani, MD, Arab India Spices
For Harish Tahiliani, offering special prayers on Diwali is the highlight of the celebrations. "We usually conduct a big prayer session on the day of Diwali when our entire staff and their families participate in this auspicious event. However due to Covid-19, this year we have decided to conduct the pooja on a very small scale with only close family members," he explains.
Diwali is also an occasion when he and his family express their joy by distributing sweets and gifts to staff members. This year that will be done respecting Covid restrictions.
How would he usually celebrate the festival?
For Harish and his family that includes wife, his twin daughters and son, Diwali starts from Dhanteras. "In Hindu mythology, it is believed that if you invest in gold/silver on this day, it will bring you prosperity and wealth. Every year I make sure that on this auspicious day of Dhanteras I invest in some kind of gold or silver item," he says.
"As Diwali marks the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness, I make sure the interior and exterior of our factory is lit up with diyas and there is a rangoli at the reception. I offer prayers and observe certain rituals. I invite all my employees with their families to celebrate together. After this, I distribute sweets and gifts to all our employees. My day usually ends with meeting my family and friends."
The highlight of the festival is "seeing the genuine happiness on the faces of people. Each and every one on this day is in a joyous mood and dresses up in their best," he says.
However, a lot of these will be skipped due to pandemic restrictions in place. "This would be the most disappointing thing for me as I will miss sharing our joys together."
Harish’s most memorable Diwali celebrations was five years ago when he was in India to celebrate the festival with his entire family. "We have five villas in a single compound where my extended family stays. And when all the villas were lit up with decorative lights and diyas it was an absolutely brilliant sight to behold; it felt like we were witnessing a great Indian wedding. We had a gala of time with our entire family and extended relatives. The entire night was spent bursting crackers and having a feast."
And the must-have traditional Diwali dish?
"It is an Indian sweet called chikki, usually made by mixing jaggery with various kinds of nuts and dry fruits," he says.
Mitun De Sarkar, clinical dietitian and CEO, Simply Healthy Foods
For Mitun De Sarkar, a hightlight of the festival of lights is hosting her son’s friends at her home in Dubai. "My son Ranbir likes to invite his friends from school who are of various nationalities. The little boys and girls enjoy the Indian traditional food, some even come dressed in Indian attires," she says. The children burst a few safe sparklers together, play and enjoy the spirit of the festival. Mitun and her husband enjoy fielding questions from the children on the festival. "We love that part."
This year, however, celebrations will be different keeping in view the restrictions on gatherings due to the pandemic.
She will not be hosting or attending big parties. "But that still doesn’t stop us from decorating the house with lights, floors with flowers and rangolis and making special traditional sweets at home," she says. This year they plan to organise a virtual Diwali get-together with family and close friends "to keep the spirit and the essence alive".
During pre-Covid times, Diwali celebrations would include spending time with her work staff. "I believe it’s our good employees who are the biggest drivers behind the success of any business." On Diwali, she ensures they get their bonuses and gifts. "Staff who celebrate join me in a small prayer in office. We then light diyas or candles and of course binge on traditional sweets."
A prayer session at home too is part of the celebrations after which she calls her parents, relatives and friends. "The most fun part is hopping from one party to another until the wee hours. Planning, hosting, visiting, dressing up during the couple of weeks that we celebrate is great fun."
For Mitun a memorable Diwali was in Kolkata at her grandmother’s house when she was around 12 years old. She remembers bursting firecrackers on the banks of river Ganga along with her cousins before taking a boat ride. "The boatman sang folk songs and when we crossed the river and reached our relatives’ homes, we were fed homemade coconut and jaggery-based laddoos, deep-fried shingadas and kheer. There was so much joy and laughter. I miss those carefree days."
So what’s her must-have dish for the celebration?
"It’s rice kheer with saffron. My favourite Diwali sweets are rosogulla, home-made coconut laddoos, besan laddoos and phirni."
Adel Sajan, director, Danube Home
Quite like everyone, Adel Sajan too is planning to celebrate Diwali on a low-key this year. "Usually, this is a time where we have extravagant parties with all our family and friends, lighting diyas, and drawing rangolis. But this year owing to restrictions on gatherings, we’re going to be celebrating with just a few close family and friends," says the Director of Danube Home. Sensitive to the environment, he also believes in having an eco-friendly celebration so "we stay away from bursting crackers but a get-together with close friends and family is always a guaranteed good time".
Pre-Covid, Adel would celebrate Diwali at home and at office. "At office, we draw a big rangoli, the entire team gets festive-ready and we have many fun contests. This year we’ll have the festivities with all pandemic safety protocols in place. I’m hoping that we’ll be pandemic-free soon and make up for this year in 2021," he says.
This year’s festival will see him have a get-together with family – his parents, his wife Sana and two sons Arman and Aryan, a few extended family members and uncles and aunts – and a small group of friends, but respecting the Covid regulations on social distancing. "We plan to connect with some of our near and dear ones virtually. I think it will be interesting to see how we can all connect and celebrate a virtual Diwali this time," he says.
But one thing he won’t be skipping is tucking into the crispy and spicy samosas. "That is a must-have at home during Diwali. That and ladoos are a staple during Diwali," he says.
Adel says he is going to miss the usual celebrations, which would involve lavish parties, getting dressed in traditional attire and spending time with near and dear ones. "The most memorable Diwali for me was last year when we dressed our kids in little ethnic wear. All of us dressed in red. Watching the excitement on our kids’ faces when lighting the diyas and enjoying the celebrations is something I’ll always remember," he says.
Dr Dhananjay Datar, managing director, Al Adil Trading Company
For Dr Dhananjay Datar, Diwali is a time for celebrating with family and friends. Talking of pre-Covid times, he says, "This is a time when we would come together and share our memories in the spirit of camaraderie."
This year, however, is going to be different. The pandemic has meant group celebrations are not possible.
"One thing I will surely miss during this Diwali is that we will not be able to meet and celebrate with friends," he says.
Respecting social distancing measures that are in force, he plans to ensure that Diwali is celebrated in a safe manner. "I will strictly follow all guidelines since I strongly believe that it is the responsibility of each individual to ensure the protocols are maintained at all times," he says.
His immediate family is small and all live in Dubai. "The people in my home are just my wife, Vandana, and two sons, all of whom have also joined into the family business." Vandana is the group’s finance manager; his eldest son, Hrishikesh, looks after imports, exports and various legal aspects of the business, while his younger son Rohit looks after sourcing and procurement.
"Sadly, we do not have any extended family in the UAE; they all live in India."
But despite many restrictions, one that he hopes to bend a bit is indulging his sweet tooth. "Sweets are an integral part of the Diwali celebration and this is the time of the year I get to enjoy my favourite sweets without any restrictions," he says.
The highlight of the festival for him and his family though is "being together and spending time together".
"For me, every Diwali is memorable in its own way. The fact that we are all able to celebrate this festival and spread some joy and happiness is in itself a highlight."
Shirin Morani Singh and Uday Singh, chairman and CEO, KBox Global
Following traditions, Shirin Morani Singh and her family plan to celebrate Diwali this year, but will make sure to respect the social distancing protocols. "We will be offering prayers at our home, decorate the house with diyas and light a few sparklers. Later in the evening, we will be joining some family members for late night card games – something we really look forward to," she says.
Visiting family and friends, exchanging sweets and Diwali gifts in the evening and hosting loved ones for a celebration at their home are some of the festive traditions Shirin enjoys.
Some of the most memorable Diwali celebrations for her have been when visiting friends and relatives in India. "We usually used to travel to India for Diwali until two years ago and we used to really enjoy having big Diwali parties there. We will be missing that this year."
She remembers attending "some of the most memorable Diwali parties" hosted by Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan and his wife in Mumbai. "We hope the world gets into a better shape so next year we have the same jovial times again," says Shirin.
What is the traditional Diwali dish that is a must-have in her home for the celebration?
"We make an array of sweets to indulge in and on Diwali night we definitely make dal makhni, which has been a tradition of my husband’s family for years," she says.
Sanjay and Vinay Jethwani, Partners, Meena Jewellers
"This is going to be a different kind of Diwali for people across the globe due to pandemic-related restrictions," say Sanjay and Vinay Jethwani. "But that does not mean celebrations will be low-key. We will celebrate with all the fervour by strictly maintaining the protocols. Safety will be the priority. But the festivity will be there in all its splendour."
The duo are happy that living in "one big family makes [celebrations] all the merrier".
Pre-Covid, they usually celebrated Diwali with family members and friends. "It was a time to forget the stresses of life by being with loved ones," Sanjay says. Relishing a wide range of delicious home-made mithais and savouries, not to mention having a good time bursting firecrackers, and meeting friends and extended family members were moments both would look forward to.
"The highlight? Seeking the blessings of elders," say Sanjay and Vinay.
They admit they will be missing the presence of friends who celebrated with them last Diwali but are unable to join them this year.
What’s his most memorable Diwali celebration? "Childhood Diwalis," says Sanjay. Vinay agrees. "They are the most memorable. We were all young and carefree and the happiest moments were when we were bursting crackers and eating mithais." The penchant for sweets continues and while both enjoy Indian sweets, the one traditional Diwali dish that is a must-have in his home for the celebration is, without doubt, kheer. "We make it a point to prepare kheer for such festive occasions."
Dr Vandana Gandhi, CEO and founder, British Orchard Nursery and British Orchard Centre for Training
Dr Vandana Gandhi has already planned how she will celebrate Diwali this year, keeping in view the restrictions on gatherings due to the pandemic. "We – my extended family and my British Orchard Nursery (BON) family – will be having a Zoom party celebration to mark this festive occasion," says the CEO and founder of British Orchard Nursery and British Orchard Centre for Training. "I’m also thinking of hosting a virtual BON quiz night to add to the celebration."
However, she quickly adds that one of the things she will be missing this year is the celebration at the various branches of BON. "That used to be our BON family’s favourite memory," she says.
Vandana is thrilled that her son and daughter, who recently graduated from the UK, are now home with her. "I’m also blessed that my mother, siblings and their families are in Dubai with me during this time," she says.
For the education expert, celebrations begin from the first day of Dhanteras with the purchase of gold or silver. "The highlight of the festival of light is the bursting of crackers and sparklers with my little nephew and nieces," she says.
So, what is her most memorable Diwali celebration? "Last year’s celebration was with our entire BON family," says Vandana. "Our rangoli-making competitions and our massive family food fest were truly memorable moments."
Vandana, who admits she belongs to "a family of foodies", says one must-have dish for Diwali is kheer. "No Diwali celebration is complete without it."