Deewali makes me melancholic. I try to do away with it. I try and pack my deewali desires in a duffle bag and leave town. I buy clothes that scream bling. I change my hairstyle. Burgundy red streaks that dare the dark outside.
Yet the gloom of the amavasya manages to slither hideously in my bones, the dark slimy creature permeates my life. I can see it sitting in my cupboard with my bling clothes. I can see it curled around the designer diyas. I can see it slither under my bed. I can see it corners of my house smirking at my deewali plans.
I long for my homespun Deewali. I long for the simplicity of a deewali where Maa cleaned the whole house free of dust and slimy amawasya creatures that slithered in her life. To my adult eyes, Maa was able to keep her life more phenyl shined, clean and ready for Deewali than I can ever do.
For all those familiar with Patna, back in the eighties, Quality corner on Boring road was the sweet destination in the city. Quality Corner housed the best ever motichoor laddo, kaju katli, pantua and the more modern milk cake. My mother braved the rush and found her way to the counter and packed the best sweets in the town for us. I would hold the end of her sari in my fist coercing her to buy some multi-colour sweet that caught my fancy.
Deewali’s best feature was the tradition of bursting crackers. Silver fountain erupting from a conical anar, a pencil spray of coloured lights, the revolving blob of silver ghirnis we danced and jumped around daring each other go further or the more masculine aloo bumb and chatai bomb. Maa always lurked in the corner. On a little table in our garden sat a steel jug with ice cold water, atube of burnol and a bandage. If… Maa’s deewali prayers were answered and none of those lost fingers, blown pieces of ears stories made it to our simple deewali.
Every Deewali, Maa selected simple vegetarian menu (cashew cauliflower this year, paneer kofta the next) days in advance, she would perfect her recipe in conversations with friends, go through it in her head thousands of times before it was actually made. She busied herself in the simple pursuit of haggling with the sabziwallah (who would holler “sister in law, no more discount, it’s my deewali too”) getting the right size of cauliflower, cutting the stems proportionately, sautéing it with a little salt, she would involve us in little errands, blend – the- cashews, peel-the potato kind of thing.
My father was a closet atheist. A brand of atheism that stems not from a deep study of religion and rituals and leads to a cold calculated rejection. It was a preference that stemmed from his irreverence. It got nourished by his alcoholism and grew in all directions because of his laziness. Deewali just meant a drink or two more than usual. Yet Maa persisted with her blend-the cashews, peel-the-potatoes routine and coerced him into the lighting the first few lamps on deewali. Maa’s persistence was the glue that held us together for many deewalis to come.
My father’s irreverent snout found its way into my face. And his laziness settled in my bones. Maa’s recipes laden with hope and dripping of ethos made me claustrophobic in my rebel years. I resented the blend-the-cashew glue that held me to a sultry little town where nothing really happened. Anger erupted like rashes and I took it out on Deewali. I left the cashews coarse to upset her deewali plans. I kicked buckets full of wet earthen lamps. I doused water on lit diyas. I blasted louder than aloo bombs. I wanted to negotiate away from home. From everything.
My mother gave in. Retreated.
I made my own deewali. Ethos - free.
No ghee diyas adorn my dark balcony. No crackers are burst. I have long forgotten the taste of motichoor ladddo. I am too busy being someone. Making myself into something that looks like an excel sheet. I am not able to find meaning in an earthen lamp smelling of ghee and promise of dispelling my cultivated gloom. Restrained smiles have replaced loud throaty laughter. I am accepting the ashen coloured strands in my hair with equanimity. I am an adult who exchanged a homespun Deewali for a dark adult Deewali. I made my decision and I live with it.
Its only when the cotton wick is dipped in sweet smelling earthen lamp that I miss my old homespun Deewali.
2 weeks ago