“Oh! We must buy some fireworks this year for Diwali in fact I’d so love to burst some Laxmi bombs….” I stopped. Good God! Had I just said that? Since being mercilessly teased by the neighbourhood boys about the Laxmi Bomb as a teenager, I had pretty much decided to shun Diwali on principle. What with Silk Smitha painted on every single billboard in town, at that time, the last thing I wanted was to be put in the same category as that bombshell; and being given the alter-ego of a Laxmi Bomb certifiably brought the images of Silk to mind. This was much before The Dirty Picture was released, confirming Silk’s official home in the annals of Indian pop culture trivia. But, apparently the passage of time had dulled the heartache, for here I was, actually pleading with my husband to buy firecrackers—especially phooljhaddis, the sparkly fountains, and uh! The rockets, ie. those ‘L’ bombs.
Actually it’s more than that. Gone are the days—I suddenly realized—when I would shudder at the thought of spending yet another Diwali in the bosom of my family. Obviously I had conveniently forgotten the rite of passage of what it meant to be subjected to the cruelty of the hated festive season. Of being slapped awake at dawn by Amma; then forced to squelch til-oil with mustard & jeera on my hair before washing it with the toughest shampoo possible so as to rub all the squish out—ending with hair that resembled a bottle brush; moving onto wearing new clothes and greeting elders; then bursting the traditional Diwali fireworks by 6am—thus waking up irate neighbours who complained about those strange Madrasi’s next door over their hangover; and finally gobbling up a massive breakfast of the choicest Muruku, Mysore Pak, Kesari and Boondi Ladoo before falling into a food induced stupor for the rest of the day. Yes, guess that was all water under the bridge now.
Where had my dread—of being surrounded by chattering relatives who vied at matchmaking me with that (shudder!) horrible curd-rice eating banker from USA—gone? And when had I turned into one of those ‘older’ relatives who loved to find out more about family politics. Who is divorcing whom? Who is fighting over the family inheritance? Which brothers have fallen out?
Perhaps it had all changed when I realised that I had a choice. I was no longer forced to do anything. In fact I could decide where I wanted to participate, and pick the family occasions to attend on my visits back to India (all the better for it was the only time I could wear my gorgeous sarees.) At some point over the years, I had become more comfortable with my identity as someone who has the confidence of breaking societal rules. Of course now that I have broken some of them, there’s no fun in fighting it so I am happy to fit in.
More than anything I now yearn to celebrate Diwali as an NRI, because it is a way to show that I understand and respect the values of my roots, for they have never let me down. Of course, above all else Diwali is also the time to worship the Goddess of Wealth who I am named after, something I never to fail to tell all my western born friends. Soaking up the wonder they express at that revelation helps too!