The Diwali spirit kicked-in at the very last minute. As usual. Almost like an after-thought, after getting a mild attack of FOMO. As usual. I go through the same cycle of emotions and actions, year on year. Supposed indifference, a lot of nostalgia, a little homesickness, wildly swings into full blown meh-ness, and then suddenly I pick myself out of the inertia and go into overdrive. Lights get put up haphazardly. The house is tidied up. Something sweet gets made. We eat some good food. And every year as we take down the lights and I put away the diyas, I tell myself I should do better the following year.
I would like to think I have it in me to plan ahead, check my lights beforehand and not put them and realise two out of four strings are not working. I’d like to have the house stocked with the typical savoury and sweet stuff, and not resort to a last minute quick-fix dessert that somehow always comes to the rescue of slackers like me. I’d love to have the house done up the way my own home used to be when we were growing up — LOTS of diyas, soaked in water overnight, filled with oil, graced with a wick and lit for three days, strings of orange marigold decking corners of the house — and doing everything we’ve associated with the traditions of Diwali like waking up really early to have an oil massage and a hot bath, wearing freshly bought clothes and getting together to celebrate with neighbours, friends and family — which was mostly an experiment in organised and legitimate indulgence.
Every year around this time, I become acutely aware of how my life is so devoid of these little traditions. Yes, I invariably do string up the fairy lights, light the customary diyas and make something sweet, but it is never with the sort of organised pomp and panache that my parents would manage to bring into our homes at Diwali. Weeks in advance we’d begin talking about Diwali. My mother would make laddoos, tukde (namak paare), and we’d buy boxes of Kaju Katli along with a few boxes of fireworks (while I was still young enough to still want to light them). Diwali clothes were a treat we looked forward to. Trudging off to Commercial Street, which would get its Diwali on days before the actual festival. The big stores of then would turn up the festivities, bring on the sales and we’d buy a new set each, to be worn on day 1 post that traditional massage and hot water bath!
I have distinct memories of wearing those new clothes and invariably getting oil on them, from the enthusiasm and excitement to participate in lighting the many diyas. Eventually by the end of the night I’d also have a few holes on them from misguided sparks flying around. Most years I also had a blistered finger or two, as a painful reminder of firework excitement gone wrong. There would invariably be a family Diwali get-together somewhere, and we’d go over with sweets and savoury stuff and do the exchange. Something about giving from your plate and taking back goodies from another home is so Diwali!
And then there was a whole bunch of new traditions when I got married. VC’s family has a Diwali lunch the weekend before, where extended family gets together, we potluck and a few rounds of cards and other games got played. Of course there would be much drinking and stuffing of face and a merry time to be had by all.
When we moved to Goa, I didn’t give any of this much thought. Something about doing things your own way makes certain traditions pale in comparison to others. I took the house, the kitchen and the daily rituals like chai time far more seriously than I did putting in an altar or saying a prayer every day. Festivals came and went, and brought with them a twinge of nostalgia and remorse for not “keeping up” the traditions my folks and family have worked so hard to bring to life, so enthusiastically, year after year.
This year too, I was largely uninterested. I also have lost track of the days whizzing by and didn’t realise till last weekend that Diwali was literally right around the corner. Two days ago, I pulled the lights out and considered doing the house up but gave up before I had even started. The hugsband and I went out to dinner last night, our first meal out together in a long time. Heck we don’t even eat together at home so much anymore — with his crazy schedules and my extreme dedication to not missing an episode of That Show Which Must Not Be Named, I tend to come back form the gym ravenous, eat dinner, and watch TV in peace while he ambles home closer to 9.30-10 pm. This has been the story of our lives the past few weeks.
It’s hard to make and keep traditions in a house of two, with one person being an absentee house-body for the most part. Actually scratch that, its easy to make a mindless tradition. But to keep to it, in a meaningful way is hard. And I realise that’s probably what made it fun for my folks. Having a larger family to do things with, setting benchmarks for us, and having an extended social circle to share the festivities with. The truth is, VC and I are isolated form family to begin with. The family we’ve built here is dwindling. I can count on one hand, the number of people I’d choose to celebrate Diwali with, and even they have their own families and things to tend to.
I realised last night that traditions need to mean something to you, in order to keep them going. Maybe I don’t have an affinity to the rituals and maybe I wont be lighting a lamp in an altar any time soon, but I do have fond memories of the togetherness that Diwali brought. The hobnobbing of a larger circle of people we belonged to. And in ever-changing times, I’d like to retain some memory of it at least. Nothing’s quite the same back home to, I don’t imagine my parents still celebrate with as much gusto as they did when we we’re around, but we try and keep up with the time don’t we?
We don’t have traditional traditions, and maybe that’s what puts me in a funk around this time of year. But I realised that maybe this reluctance that makes way for last-minute excitement is my tradition. After all, it has unfolded the exact same way every year for the last five Diwalis.
So maybe I should stop fighting it. Maybe I should stop feeling a little bad like I usually do. And maybe I should focus on doing it our way.
We turn the lights on, we spark the diyas, we get a good meal together — either home cooked, or some place nice like we did last night. And if we’re experiencing particularly busy times like VC currently is, we make time for it, mark it on our calendars and we call it a date.
After all Goa does it’s own style of Diwali with such aplomb. It has introduced me to some of its traditions, like the building of the Narkasuras that sprout every few metres. With frightning scale, accuracy and creativity, painstakingly built over weeks only to be burned to a crisp on the night of Narakachaturdasi.
It’s hard to stay sad when there is cheer around you. So yesterday I went out and bought me some flowers.
I came home and made a batch of super addictive, super yummy, and most importantly — super quick, laddoos from N’s blog.
And then I strung up the lights and we went out to dinner.
On our way back home, the Narakasura parties were in full swing. People were parading the streets, loud music and dance everywhere. We inched through the rare sight that is a traffic jam in this part of town, and I watched the effigies in all their splendour.
I realise we might not always succeed in keep up old traditions. Some times just a flickering memory that throbs to life once every year is nicer. It makes me cherish the times gone by, savour the lingering memories and think of what lies ahead. And most of all, it eventually makes us make our own traditions. Even if I get my act together just 24 hours beforehand.
Nothing makes me realise how far away from home I am, like Diwali does. And yet it is Diwali that also draws me closer to home. The one I left behind, and the one I piece together day after day.