Thursday, June 13, 2024

Diwali with Shillong’s oldest Marwari family


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By Our Spl Correspondent

 Shillong: Amidst firecrackers, decorative lights, freshly tailored clothes and a large spread of the choicest delicacies shared by close family and friends, the festival of lights, Diwali, or Deepavali, was celebrated by the Goenka family of Shillong on Wednesday.

This celebration assumes significance as the Goenkas are the oldest family among the business-rich Marwari community, managing to keep a traditional celebration of this festival in a region largely dominated by local tribes and Christians.

Shillong has barely 2,000 Marwaris in a city where approximately 50 per cent of the five lakh population are Christians and 40 per cent are people from various tribes.

On Diwali, it is a day of going back to your roots, as young and old come together to celebrate the festival of lights, explained Shankarlal Goenka, 76. Shankarlal is the head of this family, which came to Shillong in 1872. “We launched Shillong’s first cinema theatre, Kelvin, of course also the first in the North East region,” he says with pride.

On Wednesday, as friends and well-wishers trooped in, Shankarlal Goenka sat in a corner of their huge bungalow in Shillong, accepting greetings from family and friends as his wife, son and daughter-in-law catered to the guests. Shaurya, the grandson, all of four, ran around the brightly decorated home, bursting firecrackers and occasionally wondering whose birthday it could be, since there were many candles amidst the light bulbs. He kept insisting on blowing the candles, finally, managing to have his way with one.

“Today, we have friends and well-wishers dropping by. There is a constant flow of food and traditional vegetarian dishes as part of the spread”, he pointed out. Pooja, his daughter-in-law and host, kept stepping in and out of the kitchen, directing a bunch of cooks, to ensure that the table has a fresh supply of hot samosas and fresh gulab jamuns.

On Thursday, the 100 odd family members of the extended Goenka family spread across Shillong will join the celebration to wish Shankarlal. “There will not be not an inch of space tomorrow. Youngsters will come and touch the feet of elders tomorrow,” Shankarlal told Citizens Report. “The day after that, Friday, I will visit elders in my family to seek their blessings.”

By elders, Shankarlal Goenka, all of 76 himself, was referring to his elder brother and some of his friends older to him or, their parents.

“You will find a lot of firecrackers being burst in and around Shillong. But, all this is noise celebration. It is not Diwali the way it should be celebrated, with the prayers and tradition,” the 76-year-old explained. For that, you need to come here, he said with a chuckle.

Close to nine pm, the day was far from over. As family and friends sat sipping chai (tea) after a lavish Diwali spread Shankarlal Goenka, was preparing for the second phase of the celebration day. “I will now shift to the office, where, in true tradition, the business family will offer prayers to books of account and other valuables, hoping that the prayers to Goddess Lakshmi will usher in more wealth.”


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