My mother is always the first one to wish me on Diwali. My aunt is next. In their innocent questioning — have you taken a bath, have you lit the deeyas, what sweet did you make — lies the reminder of my childhood, how we grew up and what we shared as a family. It was a lot. Somehow I always felt they were subtly reminding me to never forget to be myself, no matter who I married. After all, there are two things that can happen in mixed marriages. Rituals either multiply or cancel out.
I am good with the motions, and I have been going through them diligently, even after leaving my parental home, long before I got married. I have tried to make each festival special, and even invented new ones for Re. But sometimes, motions create fatigue, and when you succumb to that, it’s a slippery slope for our children, because they have nothing to hold on to and it’s a long way clambering back.
Diwalis of our childhood were about being rudely woken up at 4 am, doused in oil, and asked to take a bath with homemade exfoliants. It was usually cold that time of year and the bath hurt and left us even more bleary eyed. Sometimes, cousins were over and they followed the same ritual. Then we were given new clothes (sometimes we had a say in what was bought, but usually they were home-stitched). There are no photos and that’s perhaps that’s why the memories are so vivid.
Each year, the money allotted to firecrackers began to buy us less and less and we often measured the fun we had in minutes. Sometimes we even managed to make them last by taking them apart. I remember my brother and I would spend hours over separating the laal ladis, and lavangis which we would ignite as singles than as a bunch to make it last. It was fun. Soon our cousins picked up and did the same. Even when money could buy us less, we still had more.
When we were growing up, cousins were people you met because of the grandparent connection — you had to share them (the grandparents), whether you liked it or not. Now that the grandparents are no more, the cousins are more or less redundant. They show up randomly on Facebook, want to be added as your ‘relative’, they post comments on your photos, and make fleeting plans to ‘meet up.’
When you have a child, festivals become indicators of a family that was. And cousins’ children become more important than the cousins ever were. You look through their albums, you ask if their children are crawling or teething, you find bits of them in their children — the bond is renewed.
A strange thing happens when the festive season sets in. Families begin to coalesce. They begin to feel grateful that they are still families. Friends begin to remember they can’t take friendship for granted. Couples begin to find joy in their coupleness.
And colleagues, whose kids you yet don’t know the names of, send you a text and put a smile on your face. They say that when you say something positive long and loud and repeated enough, it becomes a truism. May be that’s why even couples in dysfunctional relationships send out messages and cards in the festive season that end with Mr, Mrs and Master/Miss. I get them all the time and they still put a smile on my face.
And it’s addictive. Soon, you begin to Whatsapp or e-card people who you have never thought about in the past year. You text numbers from your phonebook that have been never texted or called before. You even call. You begin to add instead of subtracting.
Festivals remind me that despite all our virtual connectedness and real disconnectedness, we are still not bankrupt as a people. Yes, we do click ‘likes’ on online rangolis and diyas and pretend we’ve made our own. We raise a toast to goodies people have pre-ordered and a small corner of our heads says we should have tried harder.
Family has various meanings, but it’s in festivals that it reveals itself the most. It’s a connectedness that is palpably real, a camaraderie that no selfie can capture, a boisterousness that cannot be contained, a memory that age cannot wipe out.
There was a time we weren’t even aware we were making memories. Now, if we don’t manufacture them, we will have none. Next year, I’m going to wake up Re on Diwali and douse him with oil and exfoliants. He may not like it, but he will have a story to tell.
(This piece first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 27th October 2014)