It was my first Diwali as a married woman (whatever that means, but I am constantly reminded that it is). All these years, Diwali meant being awakened at an ungodly hour, dousing oneself in sesame oil, then scrubbing it all off in the ritual bath, wearing new clothes and then each one of us then dispersing to knock on neighbours’ doors at 8 am with the traditional mithai thalis. As kids, we were ever too happy to do that, as we felt that the stuff we got in exchange was always more exciting. That done, we would have breakfast, and then go back to sleep, only to be rudely awakened once again by relatives who came visiting at the dot of lunch hour without prior intimation. This happened year after year unless someone had passed away in the family tree, which meant we had to be in mourning (sometimes we didn’t even know who it was). Even when I moved out of home and was living by myself, I had to report to the mother’s for Diwali duty, and no excuse was good enough. You just showed up and did what was asked to be done.
The husband on the other hand has been largely untouched by tradition, having led the life of an ambassador’s son in Bulgaria, Ivory Coast, Greece, Paris, Germany and other parts of the world and returning to India at the ripe old age of 25. Technically that would make him a non-resident Indian for the most part, who had a less demanding mom than mine, which insulated him from all things ritual. The only way he knows festivals is when he is reminded of them by others. Like when he gets invited to a holi party or when his sister texts him, “It’s rakhi next week, so save up..” Or now, when I tell him, “It’s Diwali, we have to go to the mother’s” or “It’s Ganpati/Gokulashthami/Dussehra/whatever, so the mother has sent goodies for us..”
So unlike any other year, this year, my Diwali was finally mine to do whatever I wanted with it. And if I hadn’t been working on the day, I would probably have spent the day watching DVDs or reading or sorting paperwork (which seems to be an affliction).
Strangely, I felt ritually bankrupt and missed my mother and her non-stop banter from 4 am.. “Do this, do that.. have a bath… dress up …go to X’s house….get ready… blah blah blah..”
I was bereft. I wanted someone to tell me what to do. And the husband was the least contender for the job. He was just happy that he had more couch time, and irked that the couch time was interrupted by sound effects of firecrackers. Unfortunately, my maid is Muslim, so has no Diwali connection, unlike the previous one who would have been aghast to see me in my sleeping shorts at 7.30 am.
So I just did my bit — had a bath, lit a diya, gave the maid a present, wished the mother, replied to all the festive text messages (which I normally never do), wore silk, set out for work, and wished everyone I encountered a Happy Diwali!
It felt good.