THE Daya home at 59 Crammer Street in Port Elizabeth’s predominantly Indian suburb of Malabar is a frenzied place to be this time of year.
And Nirmalla Daya’s kitchen is the nerve centre as it is where she spends up to 14 hours a day creating fantastical treats for Diwali, or Deepavali, the annual Festival of Lights that will be celebrated by Hindu families across the world today and tomorrow.
Nirmalla or Neru, as most in the area know her, has prepared her sumptuous sweetmeats for the city’s Hindu community for nearly 30 years, save for a three-year gap while living with her younger daughter, Kalpana, in Somerset-West.
Former clients have been queuing up since her return to PE in February, especially over the last few days as friends and families traditionally exchange sweetmeats at Diwali as a gesture of goodwill.
“There’s always a mad rush at the end,” chuckles Neru’s older daughter, Joshna, who assists her after hours.
“People leave it to the last minute as they think they’ll make the sweetmeats themselves, but they inevitably run out of time. Others try but are left with flops, as some of the recipes are very complicated.
“My mother uses the finest ingredients and everything is hand-made with love.”
Neru’s dining room is packed with pink and green halwa similar to Turkish delight; rich and creamy sweets called penda and burfee; tiny coconut-sprinkled doughnuts called gulab jamboo; shortbread biscuits or naankhatay; magaj which is made from chickpea flour; jewel-coloured ladu and swirly, golden jalebi that tastes rather like koeksisters. Googra, another popular sweetmeat, is a pastry crescent filled with semolina while poli is filled with coconut.
Neru learnt the art of making sweetmeats from her mother, Beakie Dhanjee, who was “a fine cook”, and her father, Narsai , who worked for a sweetmeats company in Durban, where Neru was born.
She also has a treasured first-edition copy of Zuleikha Mayat’s classic Indian Delights which she turns to occasionally, though she confesses many of her best recipes are “in my head” and not written down anywhere.
The bustle in her kitchen continues once Diwali is over, as she then applies herself to making Indian favourites like rotis and samoosas for functions.
According to Thina Balakistnen, chairwoman of the PE Deepavali Coordinating Committee, Diwali is a time when friends and families pray, enjoy meals and sweetmeats together and light rows of lamps, as well as fireworks, to symbolise the triumph of good over evil. New clothes are also worn in celebration.
“Deepavali, or Diwali, means a row of lights,” Thina said. “As light eliminates darkness and illuminates an entire space, so we should endeavour to eradicate the darkness of jealousy, greed, segregation, ego and hatred, and illuminate our hearts and souls with the light of love, compassion, comradeship and ethical and moral behaviour.
“The religious story of Deepavali revolves around Raam and Sita, who were exiled for 14 years, and how they overcame their trials and sacrificed their lives for the greater good of others.”
Thina said the Deepavali committee was established in 2008 with support from spiritual heads Shri Kesu Padayachee, Kiritbhai Archarya and Swetadipdas Prabhu. It represents the city’s main Hindu organisations as well as several sports clubs.
“The committee was established to mobilise organisations to make a meaningful contribution to the Malabar community, especially the youth. This objective is in keeping with the theme of Deepavali or Diwali, which is a time to unite, forgive, share and have respect and compassion for all – especially the disadvantaged.”
Thina said the sixth annual Deepavali Festival took place at the Malabar Community Centre last Sunday, and is always held the weekend before Diwali itself. “It began with a street procession and we had stalls with Indian cuisine, clothing and jewellery.” Funds raised were donated to victims of the fire disaster at Extention 6 in Malabar, a cancer patient from Uitenhage and Schauderville’s INN Safe Hands, a home for destitute children.
“The day ended with a live broadcast on LotusFM that included singing by 21 children, aged four to 11, from Hindu organisations in Malabar.”
Diwali services will take place at the SS Aulayam temple at 10.30am and at the Sathie Sanmarga Sangam at 9am today. The PE Hindu Seva Semaj’s service is at 10am tomorrow.