My first Diwali at IIM Shillong!

The preparations had started about a week back. The Cultural Committee could be seen huddled in rooms, having meetings till late into the night. Notwithstanding the daily rigour of assignments, classes and pre-reads, they quietly set into motion the elaborate preparations. We hardly noticed it. We did not even see the decorations, until the night they switched off the lights at the Quadrangle. The entire college was alit, not from the glow of sodium vapour and halogen lamps, but from tiny LED lights spread over the college, hanging from the rooftops of the hostels, twined around the pillars, put in patterns over the railings. The campus was flooded with the soft glow of tiny lights and a strange warmth that lessened the chill of the November night. We knew it then, even though it was four or five days away, that Diwali was coming.

The preparations were more hectic in the days that followed and the festival kicked off on Saturday, the 2nd of November. In the morning, some students visited the children of SOS Children’s Village, spreading the festive cheer beyond the campus walls by contributing their bit by means of a donation. With people living in interior villages where proper medical facilities have not been able to reach and shortage of gainful employment, the State of Meghalaya has many less fortunate children who need a home and help for a hopeful future. SOS Children’s Village Shillong has been established to take care of such children and is situated on a beautiful hillock overlooking the picturesque Umiam lake spread over 11.4 acres. It was a truly elevating experience for the students who got the chance to visit the Village and meet the children.

Cultural Committee had put up a never-ending list of events to run till the night of 3rd, aptly called the Diwali Marathon. It began with the Mehendi Competition on the evening of 2nd. Boys and girls demonstrated their mastery over the medium, by drawing intricate and elaborate patterns. The venue was one of the classrooms that suddenly seemed very lively. Peals of laughter could be heard over the music. No sooner had the Mehendi competition ended and students with cameras had taken a break from taking photos, then the Antakshari began. The eager participants were ushered into a separate classroom where the rules- modified and made very filmy-were explained to them. Meanwhile, outside in the Quadrangle, crackers were going off intermittently, the sound and light adding to the festive fervour that was sweeping through the campus. The games lasted till the wee hours of Sunday. It was only when the inky darkness in the east was diffused with the glow of the rising sun that the students went to bed, only to wake up for many more events the next day.

Sunday dawned-if ten o’ clock can be said to be that- bright and cold for most people. Some, tired from the exertions on their throats and brains, slept an hour more, but woke right in time for the next big event- Rangoli. It was a riot of colours. Twelve onwards, participants could be seen crouching on the stretch near the Volleyball court, in the glass house and near the admin building, drawing patterns with chalks, discussing and running to get colours. Speakers played popular songs and photographers hovered around in hope of getting perfect shots of amazing compositions that slowly seemed to come to life. By three the dull chalk outlines had been transformed, as if by magic, to wondrous designs-some containing subtle messages, some displaying beautiful patters and others just plain silly!

Meanwhile, Cult Comm had begun another event: house-making with cardboard boxes. Several decorations were added- possibly overnight- for no one knew if they were there on Saturday, and the ivy lined wall that ran from the New Girls’ Hostel all the way to the staircase near the Volleyball Court was now full of chart paper cut-outs in shape of diyas, rockets and of course, HAPPY DIWALI!

The events were far from over, for the fun games were about to begin. Buckets were brought, the very eager contestants gathered and Water Wave begun. Each team was arranged in a single file. The members were required to fill up a jug kept at one end of the line, with water from the bucket placed at the other end. The catch, no participant other than the last one, could turn around. They had to pass the glass, filled to the brim with water, by retracing their steps without turning around, and passing the glass over their head to the next member! The contest threw up a lot of hilarious moments and plenty of people were drenched.

It was past five and the sun was about to set. Another event remained until the ‘celebrations’ started. Ball-in-the-Bucket was an innovative game, requiring participants to guide balls into a central bucket through a network of ropes. When the event ended, the lights had come on in the campus and distant echoes of crackers rang along the hills. Everyone was asked to gather at the Basketball Court near the driveway down to gate for the Evening Snack, to be had with the Faculty members. This would be followed by still more events, and finally, what everyone was waiting for- the crackers! Snacks turned out to be a brief affair, with students, now dressed in traditional attire, lining up for the other events. These events involved teams of two, comprising first and second years. Races included covering a stretch and coming back, with a first year and a second year tied by the leg! Needless to say, the event was a huge success. By seven a light mist had set in and students gathered in the Quadrangle for the Diwali Puja.

Meanwhile, a Diwali special menu was served in the mess and students, hungry from their exploits from morning, were all praise for the Hostel Committee, who had done a brilliant job of choosing the menu. Diwali also coincided with Pongal and students were not complaining when they got added goodies in the form of kesari bhat as dessert, in addition to the pongal itself.

Sumptuous meals later, students sat around in circles in the Quadrangle, where a huge bonfire had been lit. The finals of Antakshari were held, often interrupted with the bursting of crackers from students who still had stock left and were unwilling to carry it on to the next year! As the night progressed and the mist hung lower, the gathering near the fire thinned, the crackers became fewer, the loud songs turned into hums and the fire became smaller. At about three, most people had retired for the night, with only a few still waiting around the glowing logs and charcoal, the remnant of the bonfire. By four, dawn was breaking, the fire had all but died and the Diwali lights appeared pale against the rapidly lightening sky. The next day we were all back in class, with the first years caught unawares by a surprise quiz!

It is difficult to say what exactly comprises fun. It would perhaps, suffice to say, that for the weekend of 2nd and 3rd November, not a single soul in the campus missed being at home. Diwali was special for all of us, for long after the sounds of songs had died and the lights were taken off, the laughter still remained, in a happy hangover, from those two days of Diwali.

By Agnitra Ghosh

(Agnitra is a first year student at IIM Shillong. His interests lie in reading, writing and travelling)