I'm a little disappointed in myself for taking so long to piece together all the clues. Clue 1) Vandanaji spent the evening crouched in front of the heater, drying the mehendi (henna) on her hands. Clearly a special occasion is coming up. Clue 2) The neighbors deliberately start a bonfire on the front walk way. Clue 3) Vandanaji is wearing a beautiful suit this morning. Clue 4) Family breakfast is really late! Clue 5) Two pieces of barfi on my breakfast plate. Clearly it is a celebration!
But, I had to ask what it all meant in the end, because I couldn't figure it out by myself. The fire was for Lohri. We live in south Delhi, and many of our neighbors are Panjabi (it's like a page out of the young Darymple's City of Djinns, only not so derogatory). There were probably a lot of fires going on last night, I just didn't see them. The mehendi, sweets and suit were for Sankranti, the fasting for which starts at first sight of the moon the evening before. But it's the good (Hindu) kind of fasting--you can still have chai, fruit and juice, just not the solid types of food.
So there you go. I've seen my first Lohri fire, and eaten my first Sankranti mithai.