Diwali Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: When Every Mother’s OCD Peaks


Diwali Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: When Every Mother’s OCD Peaks

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

When one thinks of Diwali, what first comes to your mind is sweets, dry fruits, taash parties, and new clothes. Unless of course you live in Delhi. Then you perhaps think of smog and lung cancer before coming up with ways to skirt the ban on firecrackers. But before you get high on kaju katri and besan ladoo, you know the season is nearing when mama’s OCD peaks and every family undertakes its own personal version of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

Diwali ki safai is not just another day where the family gets together to dust the table and clear the cupboard – it is an event. Mama announces the date in advance so that dad does not have “important work” that Sunday and the kids don’t have any “scenes” planned. The POA is all chalked out – which room will be cleaned first, who will be assigned what task, and there’s a designated time for lunch break. Lunch on Safai Diwas is simple cucumber sandwiches or idli-dosa from the nearest udupi. Mama has no time for fuss.

The workday begins early – it may be your day off but the cleaning has to start at 8 am. Everyone must be up and about to scrub the kitchen floor, brush the computer keyboard, and wash the windows. Just like Holi, you are expected to present yourself in the most jhalla clothes and embrace all the dust emitting from the sofa when you vacuum-clean and the kachra falling from the fan with a smile on your face, reminding yourself, “Daag acche hai.”

The officer in-charge, mama of course, assigns every family member a task. The work is divided keeping your area of expertise in mind – the tech savvy one (my sister) is given the vacuum cleaner and the fancy new floor-cleaning machine; the tallest in the family (dad) is asked to clean the shelves and fans; the skinny one (me) is assigned intricate and small corners of the house to clean. Mama takes control of all the cutlery and delicate glass objects.

Amid the clearing, memories tumble out of the closet – old report cards, photo albums from the ’90s, toys from our childhood.

In my house, Diwali ki safai turns into family banter. One of us is bound to break something, inviting a timely taunt from mama, “Dhyan se safai karo, kaam mat badhao!” When mama is looking, dad will shout out loud, “Barabar se saaf kar, waha abhi bhi kachra dikh raha hai” just to get her attention.

The routine remains more or less the same every Diwali. Invariably, my sister will slip on the wet floor and the rest of us burst out laughing. I’ll rue the fact that I haven’t been able to record it, to send in my entry for America’s Funniest Videos. When dad is about to climb the stool, he will flex his muscles and as we giggle, mama will rush to hold the legs of the stool so that it does not topple over. And when she is doing the rounds to check if none of us are slacking, we all channel our inner NaMo for a perfect photo-op.    

Amid the clearing, memories tumble out of the closet – old report cards, photo albums from the ’90s, toys from our childhood. This is when we forget about the cleaning and start reminiscing about the good old days. And when mama asks us to snap out of la la land, the argument on what to throw and what to keep begins. I never want to let go of my old cricket gear and my sister is attached to her school yearbook. We’ve managed to keep it away from the trash bin for five years now.

At the end of the day, there’s a sense of achievement. I’ve done my good deed of the year. I’m exhausted and as I’m just about to plonk myself on the freshly vacuumed sofa mum will scream, “Ghar ki safai ho gayi, tumhari nahin.” It’s a Swachh Bharat Abhiyan that will always remain incomplete.