As a little girl I remember my first Diwali celebration in India. It was two months into the school year and my parents pulled me out to let me experience a real Diwali in their native home. “You don’t really know Diwali until you spend it in India.” I still remember those words from my Dad. And he was right.
I remember so much about that authentic Diwali. The lights were everywhere. Small clay lamps, filled with oil were lighted to signify how the tiny flickers of light would vanquish evil. I remember my Mom’s bright blue sari, the white beading laid scattered on the cloth like a waterfall. Her face smiled as she laid out the various sweets that look like a mini-rainbow on a shiny metal plate. In the background, I heard the exchanges between mothers and sons, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, all saying, “Happy Diwali” in their particular Indian dialect. As I reflect on this moment now, I know my twelve-year-old self felt the comfort of the light, the embrace of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the literal holiness of that moment.
I must confess that I’ve never felt the same sense of light in subsequent Diwali celebrations. Trying to recreate the same sentiment in the United States is quite difficult. It hit me a few weeks ago when I mentioned to my daughter that Diwali was upon us and she replied, “What is that? I am waiting for Santa and Christmas Momma.” It hurt me to hear that she had no idea what Diwali meant or its significance. She doesn’t know because I haven’t shown her. I’ve lost touch with my own Indian roots in many ways. I’ve not visited India in over seventeen years. In our house, English is our primary language. Although I sprinkle Indian words intermittently throughout my conversations with her, it isn’t the same as having fluent exchanges where she understands me completely. I cook Indian food, but tomorrow night I will not replicate the same feast that I witnessed my Mom make every Diwali when I was growing up. I am Indian, but perhaps I’m slowly losing what the texture of what that feels like.
There are ways that I keep trying to hold on. We attended a Diwali picnic where my daughter received a piece of paper explaining the meaning of the holiday. She participated in rangoli, an Indian folk art where designs are made in traditional Hindu festivals. Tomorrow morning we will wake early, sit near our temple in our home and commemorate the day. In the evening, there will be an authentic Indian meal and this weekend my daughter will perform a dance for a Diwali gathering.
I know that there are so many elements that are missing from my Diwali celebration, but I am still eager to stand in the light.It is not automatic. To feel that kind of light I need to try harder.
Happy Diwali to my family and friends. Hope all of you feel the glimmer of the light.