For the last four years, Dr Vaishnavi Reddy and her husband Dr Parthevan Rajasingam haven’t been able to celebrate Deepavali with their families in Melaka and Petaling Jaya respectively.
As medical officers posted in Bintulu, Sarawak, the pair have mostly spent the Festival of Lights at the Bintulu General Hospital where they work, seeing to their patients.
Deepavali isn’t a public holiday in Bintulu, explains Dr Vaishnavi, and as such, it is “just another day at work”.
This year, with the country currently experiencing the third wave of coronavirus infections, the couple most definitely can’t make it back even though they had really hoped to be able to.
After all, this is the first year the young doctors will be celebrating Deepavali as a married couple – they wed in August this year during the recovery movement control order.
“It was supposed to be a grand celebration back home this Deepavali with both our families, ” shares Dr Parthevan.
“But, not long after our wedding, the number of cases spiked. So, unfortunately, the pandemic and our professional obligations and responsibilities have grounded us here in Bintulu.”
Growing up, Deepavali was always a much-awaited occasion for both of them, even though they celebrated it quite differently.
“I am from Malacca and am one of three siblings, ” explains Dr Vaishnavi. “In the run up to Deepavali, the whole (extended) family would convene for the muruku making sessions.
"Each one of us had a job in the production line. The boys would be busy cleaning and scrubbing walls and then repainting the house. They would also do the washing and mopping.
“The ladies were in charge of the food. Once we’re done, the entire family would take a road trip to town to get paraphernalia for prayers and decorations.
“On the contrary, my husband had a very metropolitan celebration with his nucleus family (he is an only child) in the heart of Damansara, ” she shares.
But, even though they will be missing the excitement of celebrating with family, the newlyweds are bent on making their first Deepavali as husband and wife memorable in their home away from home.
“This year, we have decided to make it festive even though we are far from home. We will draw a simple rice flour kolam in front of our house, have our oil bath and perform our morning prayers followed by video calls to our families back home.
“Mum has sent us a Doraemon box full of goodies which sort of soothes our yearning for home a little, ” shares Dr Vaishnavi.
The duo met when they were both doing their housemanship in Bintulu about three years ago.
“We are two young doctors who came to work in Bintulu. We decided to stay on here as the working environment was pleasant and the lifestyle is very relaxing. We fell in love with Sarawak and each other, ” shares Dr Parthevan.
Deepavali preparations started late last month with Dr Vaishnavi taking charge of making cookies, tarts, cakes and traditional Deepavali treats.
But it hasn’t been easy as their working hours extended beyond their usual eight or nine hours because of the pandemic.
Also, apart from building a life together, the two enterprising doctors also started Food Truck Bintulu, a home business, last May.
“Finding the time to make the sweets and cookies is a Herculean task especially when it stretches into the wee hours of the morning. We also have to juggle our cake and cupcake orders, ” she explains.
Food Truck Bintulu started off as a hobby. They both enjoyed cooking and baking and wanted to share their food with their community.
They now hope to eventually open a cafe serving “scrumptious home cooked Asian and Western cuisine.
“We also want to have a business that is ours. So far, business has been limited to the staff that we work with but we are hoping to bring our food to more people living in Bintulu.
"We hope to open a café which sells contemporary and also authentic Indian food, including sweet delicacies. We also would like to own a food truck that can travel to people’s work place for them to choose and eat without the hassle of finding our restaurant, ” explains Dr Parthevan.
Although Deepavali celebrations will be different than they initially anticipated, the couple do not expect it to be any less joyful.
“This Deepavali may seem dull due to the pandemic but the true essence of the festival lies in the union of families and the joy it brings.
The light of love that shines when the family is together, safe and protected during these tough times just adds greater value to the meaning of festival of lights.
“Stay home, have a great and safe Deepavali, ” says Dr Parthevan.
“And may the coming year brings us better days, ” adds Dr Vaishnavi.