The only thing about Diwali that mattered to industrialist Peter Punj (of the Punj Lloyd group) when he was young was the fireworks. And that’s still
something he looks forward to. “Diwali evenings were focused on fireworks. Now, of course, I buy fireworks that are not just loud but also pretty so the kids can enjoy them as well, though they are a bit too young and a little timid now,” he says, warming up to the prospect of all the sound and light. Earlier, Peter would buy bombs and the 100,000 ladi (strings of firecrackers) and loop them around the crescent-shaped road in front of his house.
Family matters: Sonali and Peter Punj don’t exchange gifts on Diwali.Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
His wife, Sonali, is circumspect about loud crackers. The really exciting part of her Diwali when she was growing up used to be the fairs. “At that time, Friends Colony club, Sunder Nagar club and some others used to have these huge Diwali melas. I used to go with my school friends and we would take rides on the giant wheels. It was great fun,” she reminisces.
Good fortune: This nine-diya lamp from Frazer and Haws is lit for good luck. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Now, the Punjs’ Diwali is a day of pujas. Peter’s parents perform the puja in the morning and the entire family then visits all their offices and factories to perform pujas there. By the time they are done, it’s evening, and time to go to Sonali’s parents’ and attend the puja there. Sonali and Peter moved into their new house two years ago and now have their own puja in the morning.
The food cooked on Diwali day is typical puja food, says Sonali. The menu is standard—halwa, puri, aloo and black chana. After the puja and lunch, the staff is given their bonuses and gifts of clothes and sweets. Both Peter and Sonali don’t eat the sweets, which possibly explains her svelte figure and his ripped abs, prominently displayed in photographs around their living room. “The kids are quite intrigued by all this. We have a pandit and the entire thing is fairly elaborate, starting with bathing the gods, etc.,” says Sonali.
Clay peacock: Sonali picked up this earthen lamp, with a golden peacock on top, from The Blind School, Lodhi Road, Delhi. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Peter and Sonali don’t give each other gifts on Diwali. The children, Reyaan, 3, and Aryan, 1, are inundated with gifts through the year and the Punjs are looking at ways to curtail this. “In my house, my parents used to draw up a list and then send Diwali baskets to everyone whose name figured in it. Peter’s family, thankfully, is not too focused on it. It is such a waste sometimes. His mother, being American, prefers to contribute money to charities instead,” says Sonali. The Punjs contribute to Savera, a school for the underprivileged in East of Kailash, New Delhi. “These occasions give us more of an opportunity to interact with them as they organize a song and dance show and other functions,” she says.
Pujas done, it is time for the parties. Peter used to be an avid card player, but has outgrown this in recent years. “I used to play cards until about three years ago. It would go on for a fortnight until Diwali. I would be there from midnight to 7am sometimes. But one day I just fell out of it. Maybe I overdid it,” he says. Now they visit a few friends’ homes, stay out of the card sessions and come home early. “Especially because of the kids, we don’t stay out partying late,” Sonali says.
The Punjs prefer to be in India, around family and friends, for the festival, so they don’t plan holidays around this time. However, Peter’s birthday falls close to Diwali and that’s a time to get away. Their usual haunt is Thailand, but this year he is thinking about going to Turkey.
But first, there’s a big basket of fireworks being delivered, and he can’t wait to get his hands on it.