For Mathavi Mahamani, 52, and Krisnan Suppiah, 60, and their family of seven, it will be a very different Deepavali this year. But, it is not just because of the pandemic, it will also be the first time that they are celebrating the Festival of Lights in their new home.
“After almost 30 years of renting a home in Kampung Sungai Kayu Ara in Petaling Jaya – where the rental grew from RM250 to RM1,000 – it’s nice to finally have our own home in Shah Alam,” says Krisnan, who is retired.
“We couldn’t do this earlier because our children were still studying. But now, three of them are working while the youngest is in Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, so they are helping out in the expenses too,” adds Krisnan, who used to work as a lorry driver.
“So, we’re very happy that we finally get to move to our own home after so many years,” says Mathavi, who has been working as a cleaner for 35 years.
“Last year, we didn’t celebrate in such a big way because we were busy preparing for our new place, and saving money. We didn’t really prepare the muruku or go shopping much,” she adds.
The couple have two daughters, aged 27 and 19, and two sons, aged 23 and 24. Mathavi’s 74-year-old mother also lives with them.
Mathavi shares that, like many Hindus, her family usually make a Kolam, a type of traditional Indian art, during Deepavali and other festivals.
“It’s usually placed at the entrance of the home and we believe it brings prosperity to the family. We make it using coloured rice and flour, but sometimes, other materials can be used too ” she says.
“The patterns can vary from simple to very elaborate, and it’s nice to have something bright and colourful to welcome visitors to open houses during Deevapali,” she adds. But this year, their family will not be having any visitors to their home because of the recent spike in Covid-19 cases nationwide, especially in the Klang Valley.
Krisnan says: “We’re going to have just a simple celebration. We’re not having an open house, and we also can’t go to visit our relatives as we need to be cautious because of the pandemic.”
In previous years, the family have celebrated Deepavali “the traditional way”.
They wake up early in the morning before sunrise, and take an oil bath with herbs. Then, after prayers at home, they go to the Hindu temple for communal prayers and breakfast together.
“But this year, we will just perform our prayers at home instead of going to the temple.” says Krisnan.
There are also special food and snacks that they usually have during Deepavali. Mathavi says that they make two types of muruku and other Indian biscuits and delicacies. They also cook mutton peratal and chicken varuval with Briyani rice.
“We’ll still be making these dishes and treats for Deepavali, but only in small portions. In previous years, we would make a lot and invite relatives, neighbours and friends over for an open house. But it will just be for our immediate family this time,” says Mathavi.
“Things are more difficult this year. We can’t expect people to come to our house or for us to go to their house during the pandemic and it’s also not advisable, even in small groups and with social distancing,” says Krisnan.
Preparations are also at a slower pace this year for several reasons.
Not only is there the pandemic-induced movement restrictions, but there is also the water disruption to contend with. It’s the ninth time that the Klang Valley has experienced a disruption in the water supply this year.
“We were not sure how long the water disruption would go on this time round, so we’ve stocked up on water,” says Mathavi.
Fortunately, most of their cleaning and washing has been done already.
“We’re also started shopping for ingredients later than usual,” she says.
The family usually buys their meat (mutton and chicken) from the morning market at Seri Setia in Sungai Way and vegetables from some stalls close by.
Usually on Deepavali eve, they have prayers for their ancestors, and they’ll also prepare their (ancestors’) favourite food – whether vegetarian or meat dishes – as an offering.
“We usually cook extra and keep it for breakfast on Deepavali morning,” she says.
But this year, the family opted to “wait and see what happens” because things were very uncertain, eldest daughter Kayal notes.
“Last year, we had a lot of freedom, compared to this year. We got to go shopping a month ahead. We could clean our home three weeks before. We were able to make the Deepavali biscuits like muruku earlier.
"There was plenty of time to prepare, buy the ingredients, food, clothing and everything,” says Kayal, who works in finance.
This year, they only started preparing everything a week before Deepavali, because of the pandemic’s restrictions. They were also waiting for the official announcements because the cases have been increasing, and they didn’t know what to expect.
Shopping for Deepavali has also been very different this year.
Usually, they would go to Klang or Brickfields (or both) and it was like a family outing.
“But now, we can’t go out as a family – just two at a time – for necessities. So two family members have to buy stuff for everyone else too. It can be difficult since we can’t choose our own Deepavali clothing,” says Kayal.
“Klang is also a Red Zone and there are many road blocks so we can’t get there too. Moreever, both Klang and Brickfields are usually crowded so we have avoided going there for now,” she says.
Instead, the family has opted to buy their Deepavali clothing online.
“We’ve booked some outfits online. But sometimes, when ordering online, the clothes may not always fit well, so when they arrive, we may still need to get them altered,” says Kayal.
But the family concur that despite having to go through the pandemic and various MCOs, they are grateful for each other and what they have: a roof over their heads, food on the table, clothing to wear, and everything else.
“So many people are unemployed and under financial crisis during the pandemic, so we’re grateful for what we have,” she concludes.