Diwali is one of the most loved and celebrated festival in the Indian calendar and household. Its appeal is felt across all religions and regions, which is why I always associate a bunch of good memories with the festival of lights.
It is legend that in India people of different beliefs, religions, color and caste live as neighbors and friends. The acceptance of each one’s celebrations, customs and traditions is a matter of folklore and lessons taught in the way of life are priceless for the future of the individual and the country.
I am not a Hindu, which is why technically Diwali should have no bearing on us. However, on the contrary, the way I remember Diwali is very different. Every year, on Diwali we would visit my father’s best friend, and stand in his room as he and his family performed the Lakshmi Puja. We as children would watch rituals and mantras being recited and see books piled in one corner for Saraswati to bless, statues of Lakshmi, Ganesh and Saraswati illuminated in the lights of the diyas and the smoke of the agarbattis. As children, we waited patiently for the puja to get over, before we could run out into the veranda and enjoy the best part of Diwali- bursting crackers and circling phuljaris.
Once the puja was over, we would happily follow uncle’s 2 children, to their neighbor’s house. Reason being, that this neighbor had a huge open garden space in front of their house, which was extremely strategically important for our escapades with the rockets, chakaris, fountains, bombs( once in a while since we were not a very brave bunch of ten year olds) and of course the ever favorite phuljaris.
Laughter, screaming and occasional bouts of encouragement all mixed up with loud sounds from all around, lights brightening the dark skies and mothers calling out to come indoors, because really enough was enough. Who cared and who really listened, as we children made elephants and clouds of crackling light, jumped in fright when the adjoining dadas bursted something loud or scampered back hurriedly on lighting the fountain of light. And as the din and noise refused to die down, as the lights refused to dim, the energy levels of the kids did surely start falling a bit and we could finally hear our moms inviting us indoors as a sumptuous snack waited on the table.
Running back into uncle’s home it was a familiar sight to find aunty looking gorgeous in her sari, ready with hands full of plates, which in turn were full of amazing things to eat.
Sandesh, samosas, rosogullas, dry snacks and ever young silver stainless steel glass filled with water never left neither us disappointed nor hungry.
We entered the house amidst greeting of ‘Happy Diwali’ and bending down to touch the feet of the elders. We left doing the exact same thing and waving goodbyes, as uncle, aunty and their kids stood at the veranda watching as walk over safely over the pavement.
Diwali, to me will always mean what it means to everyone else – the festival of lights, sounds, sweets, new clothes and celebration. It will also mean in a much deeper sense, the coming together of friends across all boundaries, the sharing of joy and festivities, the wholehearted acknowledgment of each other’s rituals and a seamless cross cultural celebration. In many ways, that is how India can be defined too- a celebration, a festival. Let there always be light, hope and more of this in this nation where its people are its soul and its true prayer.