In my home, Diwali is the festival that is celebrated with the most gusto. I am not a very festival person and generally I like to witness the festivities and associated toil from a distance, but not for Diwali. From cleaning to cooking, decorating to diyas, buying new ethnic wear to a proper Lakshmi pooja, Diwali signifies lights, happiness, community and family to me as I am sure it does to many people. Diwali is also the time when it is important to be with loved ones. As the world celebrates, this is no time to be on your own.
Many of my childhood Diwalis were spent in my maternal grandmother’s home. With cousins and extended family, this was truly a time to cherish. Later when we move to Bombay, it was not possible to make our trips back to UP every year. Dad was a high-ranking bureaucrat; we threw parties and invited a lot of people around Diwali. Family was slowly replaced with friends and the dimension of the festival shifted from close family to friends.
Then mum fell sick. She had a couple of fractures, a long drawn out recuperation period, depression and was bed ridden for few years. Those were some of the most painful times for my family. Along with sickness came a sort of social exclusion or rather ostracization. Bombay is a wonderful city, but it is also a city where the neighbor does not know who lives next door, very unlike the gated community I live in Bangalore now. Hence, visitors and friends greatly dwindled over the months. And then there was this one Diwali when the five of us were at home with nothing much to do.
Festivals are the times when the women in the family do a lot of planning, organizing and shopping. Since mum was the center of all festivity, running around cooking up a storm, arranging for things for the pooja, getting the house in order, her illness took a toll on the house. Where is the gaiety when our lifeline was on the bed, ailing and depressed?
Our moods were down and grim. We did a very half-hearted pooja. That year, we did not go around to any homes to wish and greet people for Diwali and no one came home. When someone in the house is sick, all happiness is sucked out from any happy occasions, and you are very acutely aware of this on the festival day. All the happy advertisements on TV seem to mock you. People were enjoying and celebrating all around us. I felt a little sorry for myself and also upset.
That is when the doorbell rang and in walked an old friend of dad’s. He and his wife had known us for years. They were there to meet us and also enquire after mum’s health. Things looked up. Mum who was propped up on bed also smiled and engaged in some chatter. As they stayed for some time on Diwali evening, we all felt our Diwali brightening up a lot. A festival is much more than eating or making merry, it is about spreading joy. Most of us don’t pause a moment to think about those around us who may be down and may need a little support from us. We are caught up in our circles, in our families, in our little cocoons.
When things are not going well for you, it is the time when you need the support of your friends and family the most. This Diwali, as I prepare with joy, planning a lot of details, thinking about what gifts to buy and shopping, I remembered them with gratitude. They would never know how much their visit on that Diwali night meant to our family and to mum.
This Diwali, let us seek out those who have not been able to go home. Those missing their families, those sick and unwell and call them home or visit them. They don’t need much, just an acknowledgment that they matter and that you thought of them. You don’t know how far your little gesture will go in brightening up someone’s unhappy festival.
How do you plan to celebrate your Diwali?