That time of the year

It’s Diwali tomorrow and between one thing and another, we haven’t gotten any shopping done yet; there’s sweets to buy, diyas to decide on, my rangoli stuff to look for and of course, flowers to adorn our place. A lone string of rice lights blink on the balcony letting everyone outside know ours is a family that celebrates Diwali. The husband has to go to work both days and I am *this* close to taking a leaf out of the little tyke’s book and throw a tantrum and go “Waaaaa! I miss home!”

Home. I wonder what it even means now.

Home was our practical apartment in Hanoi the day we moved in, right in time for Diwali. My first ever Diwali as a wife, and I had religiously planned it way ahead. Brand new husband in tow, I had marched down to Sohum Shoppe in Guwahati in a silk mekhela sador, all bridal flourishes intact (five days after the wedding, what do you expect?) to pick up a colourful toran for our door and a few pretty diyas. Mom-in-law had thrown in a couple of string lights leftover from the wedding decoration as an afterthought. Even in Singapore, our pit stop before moving onward, we had squeezed our way past a mad crowd in the Little India Diwali fair trying to get the right tea candles and tiny little packets of coloured powder for my rangoli. I was all set to celebrate Diwali in Vietnam.

And celebrate we did. I wore my best silk saree and the husband put on a kurta and we lovingly draped lights all over the place. We placed tiny colourful tea candles on the floor all along the walls and I discovered that polished wood floors and rice powder don’t really go well together, which meant my rangoli was clumsy and childish and I loved it all the more. I offered my Assamese God (more like my holy book, the Kirtan because our sect doesn’t believe in deities) placed on a Chinese temple fruits from Vietnam and a Singaporean dollar, and felt immensely proud of myself. We’d then had a Vietnamese family over for dinner, and over sweets and snacks, we had talked away our first Diwali together while going through wedding pics for the umpteenth time.

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Home must also have been our spacious condo in Kuala Lumpur, where my sister joined us for Diwali, and we intended to make it big. Not to mention the Indian community in the condo had thrown a Diwali party a day before and for the first time ever the husband and I had tried our luck on luck games and won first prize. The three of us rushed to Little India in the morning, having left our shopping yet again until the very last moment and yet again grabbed whatever we could amidst the crowd. The prized possession was a cheat rangoli, a pre designed colour coded sticker thingy that was supposed to make life easier. We were expecting a small gathering so we rearranged the furniture, decked the balcony with the quintessential twinkly lights, and the sister and I set about getting the rangoli done. Halfway through we were joined by best friend Audrey, and even then it took us three hours of squinting to get the rangoli completed. Cheat rangoli my a**, towards the end I swore never to get anything like that ever again, although it did look immaculate. The three of us girls then rushed to get decked ourselves and we had a lot of fun getting Audrey dressed up in a mekhela sador. We then did our Diwali thing, ate sweets and snacks and danced our heart out and goofed about with Cotton Eyed Joe in our sarees. For the one and only time, the lights in distant Genting paled in front of our twinkly lights and candles and diyas around the place, and when the evening was over and the guests had gone and the dishes were done I swear I felt happier to be home than ever.

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Home was also Singapore, in the eighth month of my pregnancy, when I was all huge and bloated and yet we had decided to keep up with the Diwali tradition of having guests over for drinks and dinner. The lights had been set up in the morning, and the husband had gone out to get the sweets and flowers and also dinner, because I definitely didn’t feel up to standing in front of the stove cooking for our biggest party ever. And even as I walked about the house wondering why I felt something was missing, I realised I was after all my father’s daughter and never half-assed things, and my mother’s daughter, hence blessed with creativity and resourcefulness. So I brought out the good ol’ maida and turmeric and sindoor for white and yellow and red and sent a silent prayer to the Gods to give me strength as I settled on the floor to make the rangoli. I had to perform clever manoeuvres to accommodate the belly, but I finally managed in one hour what it would have taken me fifteen minutes before. And yet again, it was clumsy and childish and I couldn’t have been prouder. I then draped myself and the belly in a silk saree, keeping up with tradition, and waited eagerly for the guests, specially the littlest one, my brand new nephew, barely a few days old. And when the guests snacked and chatted and the house filled up with the familiar happy hum of celebration, my heart filled with the familiar bliss that only sharing Diwali with others can bring.

The Singapore home also saw the little munchkin, the sweetest little angel who hadn’t yet shown her true colours then, celebrate her first ever Diwali. To accommodate her early bedtime we decided to throw a lunch party instead of a dinner, which wasn’t quite the same, but at least we had a party. I managed a quick rangoli that miraculously survived her curious eyes and didn’t get crawled all over, hurriedly threw on a salwar kameez and struggled to put her lehenga choli on her (that she hated) and we were set for Diwali, first-time parents style. And right there, celebrating Diwali for the first time as a complete family, surrounded by family and friends (I was so lucky to live in the same place as my sister) it did feel like nothing could have made me happier that day.

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And today, more than ever, I miss the feeling of Diwali at home. I miss my Tezpur home, when the banana tree (or two, back in the days of abundance) would grace our gate, and Deuta would shape diya stands out of bamboo. I miss the earthen lamps, the smell of mustard oil slowly burning in cotton wicks. I miss the fireworks of course, baring the crackers because I never liked the noise and was petrified of one bursting next to me. I even miss the lingering smell of burnt fireworks because that meant the show was over and it was time to eat. I miss how Mamma would make enough snacks to feed the neighbourhood. I miss the feeling of a Diwali that lasted way into the night with the distant cracker still bursting now and then.

We haven’t been here long enough to know enough people to throw a party, and even if we did I could never wing it clingy toddler wrapped around my leg and the husband away at work. But I will not despair. Someone had once said “A single rose can be my garden” and I hope when it comes to Diwali it works too. A single lamp can be my Diwali, because I will hug the essence of Diwali inside my heart.

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