A strange thing has been happening in my household for the past few months. Re pulls out a shrine, usually a Ganesha figurine or a framed deity (duly inherited from my mother), joins his palms, closes his eyes and recites an incantation. Sometimes he asks me to join in, sometimes the cats are asked too. Very often, playdates join in too.
One day he noticed that my three-legged cat Bravo had a leg missing, and came up to me with a problem.
– “Mamma, Bravo cannot join hands.”
– “Yes, he lost one of his legs when he was a baby. But he has three good legs, and he can do anything he wants,” I tell him.
– “I am going to buy a new leg for him. A pink leg.”
Re loves to pray. It’s a thing he has perhaps inherited from my mother. It’s something he has brought back into my life. It’s something the husband, the resolute atheist, has also begun to accept, and I often find him and Re crosslegged, palms joined, eyes closed on the sofa, praying to a sometimes imaginary, sometimes real idol.
I don’t remember when I stopped enjoying festivals. Perhaps it had something to do with my never-ending singledom. Or the fact that I never had any “good news” to share with the extended family, other than the work I was doing or the places I had been to. Perhaps it was because every ritual or festival was tangentially intended towards finding a good husband or keeping the one you had, or at best, creating more wealth.
But since I had a child, I have begun to look out for, and often find new meaning in rituals. Why do we light diyas during diwali? Why does Ganesha have to be immersed? Why do we draw Krishna’s footprints on Janmashtami? Why do we play with colour on Holi? I need the answers, because Re asks the questions.
The thing about rituals is that they bring you closer to who you are and where you come from. Roots that we have to try harder to hold on to than our parents did. In a mixed-culture marriage such as ours, sometimes the rituals multiply. But sometimes they divide too. And sometimes we end up culturally bankrupt, because we didn’t want to do the work.
But ever since I became a parent, I wanted it all. Okay, as long as it didn’t involve fasting. I want Diwali, I want Christmas, I want Baisakhi, I want Holi. I want everything that Re wants. Children make you want to add the things you’ve been carefully subtracting from your life. Children give us a chance to be what we once were and have forgotten how to be. Rituals add texture. Traditions give you a back story. Festivals become you.
I am a conditioned believer. I believe in my mother who in turn believes in rituals and worship. If she tells me to tie a thread on a particular day and if I don’t find it particularly offensive or sexist, I do it.
And now, Re’s enthusiasm for “Gammati pappa” and “Dilawi” and “Kissmass” has rubbed off onto me. It has made me want to become whole all over again. A me that’s not just me but about everything around me.
Which is why this year, on perhaps my first Diwali away from my mother, far away from the noise of crackers on the beaches of Goa, the one thing I really missed was being hoisted out of bed at 4 am for the ritual oil bath. Even though my mother stopped doing it a long time ago.
(This post first appeared in my column in the Indian Express on 25th November 2012. The link to it is here: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/true-to-form/1034925/0)