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.