November 15, 2004

another diwali, another lesson

you learn the value of something only when it is taken away from you.

diwali used to be about food, oilbaths and shikakai, new clothes, lots of lamps and kandils, cousins, friends, wearing sarees and visiting temples, food again, distributing sweets to neighbours, meeting everyone in the common colony compound and bursting firecrackers late into the night. but that was in india.

the mothers did the cooking, the fathers did the spending, and we did all the shopping together.

for the past three years diwali has been about solitary attempts to make chaklis and rava laddoos, well-over-20-minute-phone calls to mumbai and kerala where the receiver is being passed around from one relative to the next, all of them wishing we were there too, or complaining about the noise and all the smoke. diwali has been about my mother calling just when the night is filled with the noise of firecrackers, and her asking me: “did you hear that, are you happy now?”

diwali has been about remembering and reliving the celebrations in the years that have passed, about having to choose the heavy and weary everyday-jackets and woolly coats over lovely chudidaars and sarees from home that lie waiting in the wardrobe, about having to light tealights or candles over rows of the traditional diyas–all ‘inside’ the home because it’s either too windy or wet outside, about having to forget about the kandil and firecrackers altogether, and shop not for new clothes but for the sake of tradition.

it has been difficult, trying to be our parents, smiling each time i think of the girl i was like. but i know its the only way to keep diwali alive, and i tell myself at least i am trying.

diwali is also when ramesh uncle celebrates his birthday, and so yesterday i called knowing that the entire family would be getting together. of all the loving uncles i have, ramesh uncle always manages to leave behind words that would have me thinking or happy…they could be any kind of words, his thoughts about the current political situation, something he read in his gujarati newspaper, or his parting words when i touch his feet. more often than not, his blessings are straight from the heart and they always have come true for me…before i set out to work in bangalore, before i went for my first vipassana course, and just before i knew i was going to get married. i wished him a happy birthday yesterday and he asked what i had been up to. i told him that praveen and i were busy renovating our house ourselves for the past three or four months and that these days we had turned into painters…

uncle: bahut achche beta…apne jeevan ke saare khushiyon se paint kar do, deewaron ko jeevan ke rangon se bhar do (very good dear, paint the walls with all the colours and the happiness in your lives…)
me: (smiling already) er…uncle, hum log to lekin white se paint kar rahe hain (…but we have been using white…)

at that point we both laughed and i said white did have all the colours in it, so i would remember his words as we painted the rest of the house.


since we had been visiting the watford hare krishna temple more often this year, praveen and i decided to take a break from the paints and watch the fireworks display they were going to have there at night.

two and a half hours later, as we returned from the temple grounds, freezing from the cold and the long walk back to the carpark, we were both smiling. somehow, the mixed smells of camphor, incense and sandalwood, the picture of a content radha and krishna in their elegant pinks and peacock blues, the cold wadas soggy with chutney and sauce and the hot reviving masala chai, the sight of the firecrackers colouring all the sky above our heads, the smell of the smoke that followed soon after, the cold air and the peace that stuck to our skin and clothes and soul made us feel that its okay… that all this and more had always been there deep within us, and that we could reach it whenever we wished to.

hope you too had a happy diwali 🙂

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