As a child, Diwali was a very festive occasion for us. Diwali, Christmas, birthdays and my parents’ anniversary were the occasions we celebrated, and Diwali was one of the most festive of these occasions. This is strange, because we are technically a Bengali Hindu family, so we should make a big deal of Dusshera, not so much of Diwali, and none at all of Christmas. But where I grew up, Diwali was much more important at a personal, family level than Dusshera, which simply meant gathering in a large open area to see the three effigies go up in a great display of light and sound.
Diwali, on the other hand, was when we all got new clothes. Loads of sweets arrived, along with boxes of dried fruit and some of this was parceled into smaller packets and given away. Much of it was served to guests or consumed in a once-in-a-year sweet-eating frenzy. The dried fruit was usually squirelled away and used in small quantities over the next many months.
On Diwali evening, we usually lit candles in our house quite early, (no puja – we were never that kind of family) and then got dressed up in our new clothes and drove to my maternal grandmother’s house. Two of my mother’s four sisters would be there, along with the four of us, my nani (nana having passed away when I was still quite young), and a whole bunch of faithful family retainers. My nani would have sponsored a modest collection of fire crackers, which the family retainers’ kids would light, giving my sister and me a sparkler or two to hold along the way.
Diwali dinner was a feast. Although my nani and both my aunts didn’t eat non-veg (by choice), there would be a rich, delicious mutton curry for the four of us, with puris fried as fast as you could eat them and the usual veggie accompaniments. There must have been dessert, perhaps more Diwali sweets, but it doesn’t seem to have made a lasting impression on me. What I enjoyed perhaps the most, was the drive back home that night, when we could admire all the houses all lit up. Hardly anyone used electric fairy lights in those days, and I always liked the candle and diya arrangements more. The city, Chandigarh, looked beautiful, sparkling with millions of tiny flames. That, to me, was the essence of the festival of light, much more so than the noisy fire crackers that I never enjoyed much.
Those were the good times.
After getting married and moving away from family (both things that I’m mostly quite happy about) the festive occasions lost their festivity. I discovered that, in a family of two, each of us has to make all the effort to make an occasion special. For Diwali, I always tried. Though I usually couldn’t manage to shop for new clothes by Dusshera, I almost always had something nice to wear for Diwali. We didn’t get boxes of sweets and dried fruits, but I tried to have something “special” ready for dinner. We never did fire crackers, but I always put at least a few candles or diyas on the balconies. Diwali remained a festival for me, while Christmas and the birthdays and anniversaries of my parents and sister became just an occasion for a phone call.
I usually wanted to be in town for Diwali, and at home for at least part of the evening, but we weren’t always. One year, I was away while Amit was at home for Diwali. Another time he was away. Two years ago, we were both in Calcutta.
So this was by no means the first time we were going to be away from home for Diwali. But, this time was perhaps the worst Diwali I’ve ever had. For one thing, there simply wasn’t time enough for me to go shopping for myself, so I wore my newest pair of jeans (only a year old) and some old shirt. For another thing, Diwali in Calcutta is a big thing mainly for the fire crackers and the puja – the two aspects that never meant much to me anyway. The good food, the new clothes, the excessive sweets were not big features of Diwali here, at least not in Amit’s family (where good food and excessive sweet seem to be everyday features).
On Diwali evening, I somehow wasn’t much in the mood to do the diya-lighting in someone else’s house, so I didn’t participate much in that. Then, we fed the kids dinner and that turned into a fiasco with both kids throwing tantrums during the meal. There were about 20 people milling around, distracting them and offering unwanted advice, which didn’t help. Anyway, after their dinner, we took the girls to a quieter part of the house and spent some quality family time in which Amit and I played badminton with a balloon while the girls watched in amazement and occasionally got whacked by the balloon. Then, we decided to go down and join in the fire cracker show, but already my heart wasn’t in it and the girls only clung to us and looked scared. So we brought them in, and soon after we put them to bed.
For some strange reason, both of them have started getting extremely anxious at bedtime and as soon as we turn out the light, or even before that, Mrini starts wailing and becomes hysterical. One day we tried leaving her wailing, but when she showed no signs of abating a couple of minutes later, I gave in and held her. Whatever insecurity is making her be like this, it doesn’t seem to be settling down, in fact it even seems to be getting worse.
So after putting them to bed, I spent half an hour lying with them in the dark, waiting for them to fall asleep. By that time, I had no desire whatsoever to go and join the family outside. I stayed skulking in the room, in the dark, listening to the fireworks, wishing it had been different. I didn’t regret missing the fireworks, but when I crept out of my room to eat the three rotis, cabbage, and fish curry that had been dished up and kept outside the room for me, as I ate alone in the living room, and crept back into the dark room where the twins slept uneasily amidst all the loud bangs, and the screams of merriment from outside, I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for myself. I couldn’t help feeling that this was not really what Diwali meant to me.
Oh, well… Maybe next year will be better.