Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Made in Phoren Festive Fervour


My first Diwali outside the country was a Shakespearean tragedy. I blame my craving for the desi and my penchant for adventure to get the adrenaline flowing. You have to be brave or desperate or both to venture out of the comforting confines of your home, only to put yourself through three hours of excruciating torture, fittingly titled, “Jab tak hai Jaan”. At that time, spending our valuable dollars on Indian cinema’s Granddaddy of Mush’s swansong was the closest we could think of making our Diwali memorable. It was memorable all right but for all the wrong reasons. By the time we were done with the movie, we barely had jaan to walk back home. But what does one do in a city, where lighting up diyas inside your apartment can set off the fire-alarm…. where mithai is either frozen or so vividly coloured that it’ll put even Govinda’s wardrobe to shame… the most hyped Diwali Mela is more like a school function where you blink back tears as you listen to an off-key, heavily accented rendition of Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram as you spoon in a mouthful of lamb biryani….where your friends and family are so far away that they can only offer you comfort over the phone!

Your safe, quiet, picture-perfect, wine-sipping, steak hating life in Brisbane is no match to the chaotic but vibrant, stressful but exciting, noisy yet comforting existence in Delhi. It’s a treat to watch Delhi brighten up like an about-to-wed bride, weeks before the festival. There’s a sudden spring in her step, her complexion starts glowing and she surprises herself with her indefatigable energy to shop, shop and shop some more.

It’s surprising what nostalgia can do to your memory as it filters out the unpleasant and retains only the positives. Gone are the memories of getting stuck in nasty traffic snarls, getting your toes trampled at the market crammed with eager Diwali shoppers, scouting Big Bazaar looking for the perfect gifts for your household helps and the noisy celebrations with Yoyo Honey Singh for company. All I can recall is the joy I felt when I saw my city look her most beautiful on Diwali night and the taste of the festive treats. Why, I even managed to miss the “Madam jee, bakshish” brigade!


This year I refused to feel sorry for myself. I got my toes trampled as I did Garba for the first time in my life, got hit by menacing looking Dandiya sticks as I swirled around in my Fab India skirt, devoured a peculiar version of pav-bhaji, memorized Bappi Da’s gems for the Diwali party, let my friends teach me Teen-patti, attended that Diwali Mela again but this time with my gang of giggly femmes. Also, I stayed away from Shahrukh’s films.

It was far from a picture perfect celebration. I was alone on the eve of Diwali, my husband and daughter in different continents. But I still made the effort to pick up flowers and Diwali illuminations for our apartment, cursed loudly as I spent hours trying to assemble made in China tea lights. That evening, I smiled in satisfaction as I watched those electrical diyas flicker all around my house, I came face to face with an astounding revelation - you can travel to any part of the world but you cannot escape made in China Diwali lights. On Diwali, I made my first ever mithai. The almond mishtees looked like gargoyles but tasted divine. A few more years here and I’ll start making gujiyas and malpuas at home.
Courtesy - Google Images


I spent my evening amidst friends and laughter – a bunch of desis caught between First World aspirations and yearning for their home and memories they left behind in the dusty by-lanes of their cities.

As I was chomping on a made in China goodie, scallop dumplings, I came face to face yet another realization. Despite staying away from all that’s familiar and comforting, grappling with unfamiliar accents, bland cuisine and new cultures and norms, the Indian diaspora doesn’t let homesickness dampen their spirits and festivities. In fact they use it as an excuse to try harder to make every festival special. At the Durga Puja, we do all the work ourselves. Kids and their parents rely on Skype to prepare for cultural programmes. The bhog tastes nothing like what we get back home yet we manage to have a gala time. And we take divine permission to celebrate all our festivals only on weekends.

Gone are the days when I used to be picky. Nowadays, anybody who smiles at me is a friend. I wasn’t a least bit upset, when the guy at the car rental confused Durga Puja with Haj.

Distance makes the heart grow fonder and how! The further I moved away from my desh, the closer I felt to it. Just like what I had with my Mom and later with my daughter. When we were together, we drained each other with needless arguments and accusations for not being sensitive enough or caring enough. But now that we are apart, we reserve the best for our moments together. 


 
http://www.indiblogger.in/indipost.php?post=294710


68 comments:

  1. Loved this as always :)

    Did the guy really confuse Durga Pujo with Haj ?

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  2. Now that was nostalgia unfiltered. How true that distance draws a veil over the unpleasant and clothes everything in a rosy glow.

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    1. Love, nostalgia - same thing :|

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  3. I have spent years and years in Japan. I did not usually feel homesick or miss India much except when the festive season neared. Nothing absolutely nothing is as bad as spending your festivals away from your country and Family. I am extremely picky in making friends but when I was there anyone who said hello or spoke in Hindi was a friend! And whoever fed me home cooked Indian food had me as their slave for life. ! Can relate so well to this post Purba !

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    1. Finally we have shared memories :-)

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  4. Why "Jab Tak Hai Jaan"? Why? Why? WHY!!!!!!!!!! You didn't know how to play Teen Patti?! Gurgaon is in India the last time I checked.
    Also now you are sounding like a true NRI from a Yash Chopra movie. :P
    Garba and all that....were you inspired by the Ram Leela trailers?

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    1. Why so many exclamation marks? Why???? Why!!!! Why?

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  5. I had similar feelings last year when I was in US!

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    1. California has such a huge Indian community!

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  6. I was asked once 'so when you go to India this year, will you be doing the pilgrimage?'
    'Er what pilgrimage? I asked, cursing myself for lacking knowledge about my faith.
    'You know - the Haj'.
    I had to spend some time explaining how Saudi Arabia was not a part of India, though we could do with the oil, and the fact that there were different religions involved.

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    1. And I'm forever putting up with people who confuse India with Bangladesh :/

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  7. Love your optimism. It has been a week of hectic socializing, card parties and rituals. This is the first post I am reading after several days. Enjoyed it, as always.

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    1. I can imagine. There's always so much to do in Diwali season.

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  8. Aaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!

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  9. I won't blame the car rental guy. Puja and Haj has a striking similarity - in both the rituals, you know what to do and how to do, but don't know why you are doing it.

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  10. You summed it all so well Purba, that distance makes the heart grow fonder! The Chinese lights will come to rescue to light up all the occasions including Christmas and New Year:)

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    1. Hail China, factory of the world.

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  11. Well, I am not miss anything at all. I actually felt glad that I was away and free and no chaos and no expectations from society (not that I would ahd cared if I were in India) and also maybe because I am a person with detachment level towards the extreme or maybe I am an atheist.
    There are few Indians who work at IT companies here. They call me for parties such as baby shower, diwali, karva chauth and then dance to 'sheila ki jawani', 'chunni badnam, 'jilebi song' and other songs which I never heard of. They are nice people but I am not able to cope up with such noise probably. It looks like they define their lives based on bollywood and I am not fond of bollywood :-D
    They call me an Indian and dont even know that India has many official languages and think all Indians speak hindi or SHOULD speak hindi and display no respect for other languages or people who speak those other languages. This diwali I was totally pissed off! During such times feel rather I will spend time with other nationalities than meeting some Indians. I find peace and tranquility that way.
    Anyway, glad atleast you had some fun with your pals in the end:-D

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    1. Perhaps, you found your life in India stifling. I'm just assuming. But happiness always resides in the present.

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  12. I have always noticed that the Indian diaspora simply looks for excuses to get together and celebrate the joy of being Indians. You can take them away from India, but you cannot take away the India from them, can you. Good that you got into the spirit of things and had a fun Diwali.

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    1. I think they become more desi once they move out of their country. How many of us would send our kids to Hindu school every weekend?

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  13. Well, same story here. Those Chinese lights saved the day for us! Even with incessant rains here, we managed to light up the house. :)

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  14. Nostalgia at its best. I know how it feels...2 yrs back I spent a diwali away from family in canada..

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  15. Been celebrating no diwalis to mild to gala to mild again. Thanks to all those stores that sell crackers, the authorities that let us fire them....had another mild Diwali :-) we all miss home during such moments, don't we? I could so relate to your post..

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    1. Even that mild celebration requires so much effort.

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  16. I have seen that NRIs go overboard with everything Indian :) -- every celebration, festival, Bollywood songs. Just like you pointed out, distance makes the heart grow fonder. And only the bright and shiny remains in the memories. I am glad that you enjoyed your Diwali! And did I hear that you made mishti (not mithai)? You can't take the India out from an Indian, can you? Enjoyed the post!

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    1. One woman's mithai is another woman's mishtee :p

      And you my dear are an expert. Saw the besan laddoo pics, couldn't stop slurping.

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  17. As I read, I could see. As I read, I could feel too. I had three people around me on Diwali, but so many from the family tree were not there. And I wish they were. :) I admire the optimism you felt, which I think my heart would never have garnered under similar circumstances. And I am happy you had a lovely Diwali despite being alone, because you were not so lonely after all. :) Beautifully conveyed thoughts!

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    1. Sakshi, making the most of whatever little I get. Was missing the buzz that precedes Diwali. But then we have Christmas to make up for it :-)

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  18. Festivals I think are made for this and this purpose alone. Isnt' it? Loved the article and could relate to most of it though I have never really spent much time away from family or the country.

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  19. My teacher once told me that her biggest regret in life was that she never said anything nice to her mom. I guess staying together we all just forget our fondness and closeness, its that little bit of distance that makes us realize how much others mean to us. I am sure you missed you family but I am really glad that you had your fun and this is one festival which I feel is where you cannot stay isolated and away.

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    1. It took me some time to adjust to new realities and I have surprised even myself :-)

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  20. It is heartening to know how the neighbour we fought with everyday while in our own country are the only element of solace while we are in a foreign nation. India is strange, made of strange people, but I guess homeland is a uniting thread that binds us all.
    Probably when we cross the space divide, this sense of kinship will extend to the entire world when people from various parts of the world go out to live on an alien planet.

    Keep up the spirits!

    Blasphemous Aesthete

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    1. Ahha - you dream of an Utopian existence where we love people for what they are and not from where they come from.

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  21. Beautiful and nostalgic post. Made me mushy

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    1. Thanks for reading and sharing, Ritu.

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  22. Brought back all those lovely memories of my Diwali Days in New York! Your comparison of Delhi with a bride-to-be was spot on!
    An utterly Diwalicious post!

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    1. For me it used to start with Durga Puja and ended with Holi and the advent of summer.

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  23. I could so relate with this nostalgic post! "It’s a treat to watch Delhi brighten up like an about-to-wed bride, weeks before the festival. There’s a sudden spring in her step, her complexion starts glowing and she surprises herself with her indefatigable energy to shop, shop and shop some more." So agree!

    When you're away from home, you make a conscious effort, all the more, to keep the fervour and positivity of every occassion alive in the best way you can. And this is what I tried to do as well this Diwali with my family and friends here in Doha :)

    Glad to know that you had a wonderful Diwali.


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    1. But I keep wondering if our kids will make the same effort.

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  24. spent quite a few Diwalis away from India and missed home terribly. Makes you value the festival a lot more :) Good one!

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    1. Yes, especially during festivals!

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  25. Enjoyed reading this and smiled at that diwali puja / haj confusion ! Celebrate everything and evry day
    God bless

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    1. That's how life is meant to be lived - as a celebration.

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  26. Luckily in Singapore Deepavali is a National Holiday. The local Indians (Singaporeans) , third generations of early Indian immigrants celebrate it with pomp and splendour. The customs are slightly different but nevertheless it puts the festive fervor in place.

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    1. Sounds perfect to me. And Singapore has a huge Indian community!

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  27. Humor, emotion, seriousness, love and affection - all mixed up so well in a post. The real love for the country comes out only when far from it. Enjoyed the post more than you did Diwali :)

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    1. Thanks :-) The Christmas celebrations here more than make up for a dull Diwali. The city is aglow with festoons, decorations and installations.

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  28. Did you read my mind or what??? My 1st Diwali at pardes was just like the one you described - a mixed bag of missing India like crazy and celebration with friends who are family. I would have loved a SRK movie though :P We even thought of turning the fire alarm off, for lighting the diyas - The jugaad philosophy can't be blamed, we are desis after all!

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    1. Desis abroad can write a book on my Tryst with the Fire Alarm!

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    2. Sure I can do that! And, thanks a lot for the inspiration, I am going to at-least write a blog post on that.

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  29. That's the life living aboard. Indian festivals celebrate in the confines of our home where the weather outside is not so welcoming is only one fourth of the fun we had back in India. I really did miss the Diwali sweets made at home and shared with/by the relatives. Yet we managed to have a small celebration.

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    1. Thankfully, the weather in Australia never disappoints and I have a bunch of friends who make awesome mithai! And if all else fails, we always have Nanak Sweets :D

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  30. Yes, I could relate too your post, down to the Chinese Diwali Lights:) Celebrating one's festivals in another country is always a bit strange, a bit disjointed at times - and even a minimalistic celebration requires a lot of effort. And there are new normals created too - like a Navratri celebration with a desi gathering, garbas belting from an ipod with a wine counter to boot!

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    1. A Wine Counter at a Garba night? ROFL I think what's most distressing is that the most important festival is just another day in your city - unlit and bland.

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  31. I think people living abroad celebrate these festivals with more heart. I attended a Diwali Mela in Manchester, something I have never done in Delhi. I was surprised to see so many people enjoying themselves there.
    And it was more organized.

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    1. Bingo, Amit! In Delhi, I avoid Diwali festivals like plague. The crazy crowds and the noisy celebration is too much to take.

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  32. Not experienced this as yet, sounds different yet exciting from the many in the search for first world aspirations. Good to hear the first hand experience from a blogger's pen (keyboard rather!)
    Hope you had a good Diwali...good thing is you will cook many things and we'll probably have a cooking blog from u!

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    1. A Food blog is unlikely. By the time I am done with cooking, I'm too famished and tired to click pics :/

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  33. My cousin, uncle & friends are settled in California. The huge Indian Community there celebrates all the festivals together. They share pics.
    When I was away from our country, I missed India the most, especially Indian festivals & food! Longed for Dosa-Joints instead of Burger & Pizza ones! :)
    You are right that sometimes distance makes the heart grow fonder.
    Can hope that may it not be a case of- 'out of sight & out of mind!' :)

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