Diwali Redefined (For me)

Posted on November 1, 2014


Festivals and me don’t go together. I hate all festivals and in that I do not discriminate. Be it a Christian, Hindu, Muslim, alien festival…I will hate it as much as all the others. My main reasons include seasonal nicety on people’s part, excessive commercialization of holidays, social pressures about personal grooming and visiting others! My hatred for festivals clashes with my Indian-ness. We have a festival for every imaginable season, reason, deity and region.

I was very relieved when I moved to the West in 2011. I could escape all the aforementioned frivolities without being guilt-tripped into doing something. And then came this year. I don’t know if I paid more attention to pictures on social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram this year, or there was an overwhelming increase in  the number of posts on people celebrating Navratri and Diwali. Since September, pictures of Goddesses, little ghee lamps, friends and family dressed in all their finery were being paraded in front of me. I wistfully enjoyed photos and videos of loved ones and not-so-loved-ones singing and dancing. I told myself, I was just missing dancing. I loved going for garba with my friends. I had nine different dresses for nine different days and I went to different venues. There was a time I won prizes for garba. Such a long time ago. I have probably been to garba once in the last fifteen years.

Then in October came Diwali. The first day I saw a friend’s Instagram post with a ghee lamp marking the onset of the Diwali fortnight, I felt a pang in my heart. That was new for me. Diwali has been my favorite festival to hate for a long time. I even christened myself “Diwali Scrooge” in 2007 and it seemed to fit! But this year, for some reason, I thought of lighting a few lamps myself. But I stopped myself. Why? Who knows!

During the Diwali fortnight, I joined a volunteer training program to become a supportive counsellor for survivors/family and friends of people who have died by suicide or homicide. One of the modules was on supporting survivors through the holidays. Our trainer posed a question to us, “What is the importance of the holidays?” Holidays in the West mostly refer to the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. People said great many things – a time for togetherness, celebrations, family, love, sharing, putting differences aside, etc. As each one of my peers shared their thoughts on what the holidays/festivals meant, I felt like I was being slapped.

It was then that it dawned on me. I stopped celebrating festivals may be 15 to 17 years ago, coinciding with mom falling sick. Somewhere in my mind, heart and soul my family was altered forever. When she died, somewhere deep inside I promised myself I would grieve forever. When someone is grieving, they don’t celebrate festivals. They stay away from all things festive – food, rituals, shopping, clothing, etc. And that is what I have been doing for over 15 years!

With this realization came no relief. If I was grieving for all these years, did this mean I was done grieving her? That felt like a betrayal to me. I couldn’t believe that I was done. And then I felt a warm glow come over me; I felt my mom speak to me. She said, “You’re not done grieving. But you are ready to redefine what family means.” She meant, I was ready to include Sid in my definition of family.

I guess I am happy enough to light a lamp this Diwali after all.

Posted in: introspection