“How does this look?”
“You can’t look like this, it’s Diwali. Wear some bangles and please take off that horrible hair clip.”
I enjoyed the familiarity of these arguments as I watched my mother decorate the house. It was night and the air was thick with smoke from firecrackers. Occasionally, an explosion would startle us out of our conversation before it faded into more distant thuds – the soundtrack of this season. As we talked, my mother lined the house with diyas. In a matter of seconds, the outside of our home was a soft, glowing yellow.
The front door opened and my sister walked outside, hands tucked into her pockets. “I don’t want to go inside, I just want to sit out here and stare,” she said. “How do you like this?” she shot at me, spinning slowly so I wouldn’t miss any angle of her new outfit.
“Awesome,” I said absentmindedly. I was sure I saw a bowl of sweets in the living room when she opened the door and suddenly, the three-year-old with an incurable sweet tooth resurfaced. I turned my glance back to the lamps and the rangoli. “Dad stuck in traffic again?”
As if on cue, his car pulled into the driveway. I had a sudden flash of the days I was in school, waiting for him to pick me up. My parents’ cars may have ordinary-sounding engines to you but to me, they’re unique. I can hear them over the worst traffic jam, and I’ve always been able to. The sound has always made my heart leap in joy and relief – the feeling of going home after a long day is something else.
The car’s doors slammed shut and I heard him end the last of his calls for the day. “Wow! Just…wow.” He said, staring at the house. I agreed. The workmen had done an extraordinary job of draping the house with untimely Christmas lights, and the diyas made everything magical. “Hi! How’s college?” He added suddenly, noticing me.
“It’s not bad – I just can’t believe it’s almost over. In a few months, your daughter will be a working professional. How does that sound?”
Diwali was clearly in the air. Everyone was more relaxed, the house was a shade brighter and sweets of all kinds were piled high, waiting to be devoured with a barbaric force. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a bar of Dairy Milk.
“Can you believe I found this in the Indian store today?”
My mother glared at the grinning face in her laptop screen. “Chocolate before lunch? Will you ever grow up?”
“I’d love to see you stop me,” I retorted. “Take the next flight here and snatch this chocolate right out of my hands, I’ll be waiting.”
For the third Diwali in a row, I am on the other side of the world – the side that doesn’t shut down to celebrate. I take comfort in an endless stream of old Diwali advertisements – the student surprising her folks with a visit from the hostel, the husband gifting his wife the beautiful necklace she’d been eyeing, the happy families holding fireworks and laughing for no reason. I tell myself Diwali coincides with late autumn, and the yellow and orange trees give the city a celebratory look, even without the lights and sounds.
When I celebrated Diwali at home, I wasn’t always so sappy. I’d sulk in my pajamas when my mom woke me up at the crack of dawn. I’d curse the firecrackers that went off all day. I’d glare at the constant stream of visitors.
But today, I will make the most of a sound wifi connection and steal a few moments with my family. We will pretend I’m in the wicker chair next to them, making smartass comments that would’ve landed me in a fair amount of trouble if I was actually there. While they sit outside the house and admire the view, I will stare in awe at the part of my home that fits in the few inches of my laptop screen.
Soon, neighbours will pour on to the streets. The place will become noisier and the air will be thick with crackling sparklers and delighted screams of children. Loud Diwali greetings will threaten to overpower the distant thunderclap-like sounds. Soon, I’ll say my goodbyes and let them participate while I listen to Mere tumhare, sabke liye Happy Diwali until my battery runs out.
Even though it sometimes feels watered down by the foreignness of another country, I’ve learned one thing – Diwali will always be the most special time I know and nothing can change that.