Meenakshi Shedde: Diwali 'saf-suf'

Illustration/Uday MohiteIllustration/Uday Mohite

I live in a modest home. So it feels wonderful when friends say they like it so much; that it has the energy of a free, single woman’s home, warm and welcoming. It is airy, mostly bathed in light; the walls are lined with books, DVDs and little black film review diaries from floor to ceiling. But my balcony is my palace: lined with plants and flowers, it overlooks an ancient, elegant rain tree, the love of my life, whom I hug every now and then. So proud am I of this house, there’s even a Post-it outside saying ‘Republic of Meenakshi’.

Now, I’m not a fan of Diwali ‘saf-suf’ — autumn cleaning rather than spring cleaning, but I feel obliged to attempt it at least. I’m trying Marie Kondo’s decluttering mantra: does this thing spark joy? If not, out it goes. I’m better and more ruthless doing this for others: I recently helped a close friend in Sydney clear out her kitchen, calmly cutting her “but my friend specially made this chutney for me” — with a “yes or no?”

Invariably, saf-suf turns into a philosophical affair for me. I noticed cobwebs on the bathroom window shutter frame. I’d already chased the poor spiders from my other rooms, I thought let them at least shelter in my bathroom shutters. They don’t bother anyone, and anyway, with the late showers, I could hardly send them into the rain.

I have a terrible conscience with rats though. Every year, when it pours heavily and rainwater floods the back garden, including their ratholes, they shinny up the drainpipes — climbing till the sixth floor — to nestle in apartments until the water recedes. I’ve no idea why, when squirrels and rats are both rodents, squirrels are cute and rats are ugh! “Rats really need to fire their entire PR department,” someone wrote on Now, if they managed quietly in a corner, that’s one thing. But, they keep knocking over pots and pans in the kitchen in the middle of the night. My maid laughed at my bleary-eyed indecision: Arre, madam, bas ek chuha-ka-kek (rat-cake) lana, she advised. When I went to buy it, the local grocer said, we don’t stock anything that kills, we are Jains. Anyway, the cake instructions said eating it would make a rat very thirsty and it would race out in search of water — so far it has invariably worked.

And I’m most grateful to my lizard friend for walloping all the mosquitoes. I am rather irritated by women who shriek and jump into men’s arms when they see a lizard. When I lived in Delhi years ago, I once stayed in the large home of a tango teacher in Gulmohar Park, and made friends with her resident lizards. One of them sweetly introduced me to her baby. It was fascinating watching them on the slanting ventilator glass, from my desk below. Pale white, like tiny dinosaurs with dainty toes, the entire family would stoically gobble up all the mosquitoes that had been troubling me.

I recently went to a lunch with ladies who had visited their teenage sons, who were living in chummeries in the US, with a personal bedroom, but sharing the drawing room and kitchen. They were horrified to see things growing in the sink, and filthy higgledy-piggledy rooms — “things were piled so high on the bed, I’m not sure there was a bed.”

Ah well, I can see my own bed, so I’m grateful for small mercies.

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at

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