Soan Papdi, Meri Soan Papdi: An Homage to the Nice Guy of Diwali Mithais


Soan Papdi, Meri Soan Papdi: An Homage to the Nice Guy of Diwali Mithais

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Diwali is undeniably the superstar of Indian festivals. Like any star it always makes a grand entry with an entourage… of gnats, debates around whether anti-cracker campaigns are an anti-Hindu conspiracy, dengue, malaria, toxic air, and yet another novel way to die. There’s something else that makes an appearance unfailingly around Diwali. One minute it is lying forgotten in some dark corner, ignored and untouched, and the next it becomes an omnipresent entity, just like an Eid release of a Salman Khan flick. You either welcome it gleefully because you are doggedly devoted to this crap or turn your delicate nose up in the air and let out an “ugh!”

No no, come on, don’t stress your brains so much. In the spirit of Diwali, here, take a bite of soan papdi. I know I know, it’s been lying in the pantry since you can’t remember when. Was it last year’s Diwali gift that you put away to pass it on to someone you didn’t have to impress and then forgot all about it? I don’t blame you. Soan papdi is the nice guy of mithais. Humble, always available yet taken for granted and dumped the moment an exciting option like kaju katli or rasmalai makes an appearance.

In Brisbane, it was my 3 am companion, comforting me when I’d be homesick for desi treats. A few bites later the world would seem like an okay place again. It’s now a forgotten affair. My eyes no longer light up like Times Square when I spot it in a dusty corner at my kirana store. Especially now that I am back into the arms of boondi mousse, sada-bahar chamcham ganache, and baked yoghurt parfait.

It’s not your fault, soan papdi. It’s not as if you taste bad. Made of besan, sugar and ghee, you melt in the mouth like desi cotton candy. But in this new world order where everyone thinks they are unique and expect nothing but the best, you are just basic AF. And unlike dry fruits you cannot be blitzed, crushed, powdered and given a new form.

You’re like the human soul, dear soan papdi! You can never be destroyed, you simply take on a new life as you move from place to place.

It wasn’t always this bad for you. Once upon a time all we got on Diwali were Milton jugs and casseroles. If we prayed hard enough, the set of six melamine cups in cream and pink that Mom had gifted Mrs Gupta four years earlier would land at our doorstep, just like a long-lost son. But Mom, far from weeping like Nirupa Roy while hugging the cups close to her chest, would get an eye twitch like Lalita Pawar.

In short, casseroles, thermoses, tea-sets from years past were the soan papdi of gifting. Nobody wanted them, yet everybody gifted them. Too bad its now you that that goes round-and-round like unclaimed baggage on the luggage carousel.

Hey, we know you deserve better than this and have set you free not once, but multiple times. Yet you keep coming back to us. Why? Is this true love?  

Remember the time when I decided to wish our neighbours on Diwali the old-fashioned way and turned up outside their door with you in a brightly wrapped box? They took such a long time to open the door, I was convinced they’d mistaken me for one of the staff asking for baksheesh. They looked more stunned than pleasantly surprised when they realised their neighbour had nothing better to do than dropping in for a visit. The silence was so awkward that I finished an entire bowl of cashews to put them at ease.

Exactly two days later you were back, only this time it was via Mrs Ahooja from the 13th floor.

But don’t let the fact that no one seems to want you make a dent in your self-perception. You’re like the human soul, dear soan papdi! You can never be destroyed, you simply take on a new life as you move from place to place.  

This year, wizened by experience, and determined not to gift you to anyone, I rang our neighbour’s door, asked her for her number and promptly sent her a glittery Diwali forward. As expected, it has worked like magic. Her face lit up like a made-in-China electrical diya. The ice between us melted so fast, we actually thought we were responsible for global warming. And there was none of you, soan papdi, to make things awkward between us.

The neighbour and I are now besties. We keep in touch by spamming each other with recycled jokes and only communicate using emojis. The other day when I met her in the lift and tried sticking my tongue out and winking at the same time, just like my favourite emoji, the kid from the 15th floor started crying and wouldn’t let go of his mom. It was a desperate situation. So I looked at him and said, “Here beta, have a soan papdi.”