Celebrating Diwali By Roopa Ramamoorthi

Tuesday December 27, 2005

Diwali is the most important festival for Hindus, like Christmas for Christians and Id for Muslims. It has always been that special time of year where mummy starts getting busy making sweets days in advance. When I was a child, I would make a long list of all the sparklers, rockets and flower pots that I wanted and my mother would see the eager look in my eyes and not want to disappoint me, but each year the price for these items kept increasing. And so I got my first economics lesson, of diminishing marginal returns. I needed some sparklers but there had to be limits set—balance price versus pleasure. 

I remember the Diwali when a friend of mine in the building got badly hurt when the crackers she burnt burnt her instead. Taught me another life lesson, to enjoy but always be careful, otherwise I can get hurt. Then there was the first Diwali in America. I did not have vacation but instead had to study for exams, but the letter came from mummy, saying she missed my not being there for the first time for Diwali, and her love made up for all the sweets and sparklers I did not savor.  

The best decorated houses, which my mother took me to see, were two buildings where people had beautiful lanterns and lit lamps with joy. These were not the wealthy people with servants swarming to decorate but simple lower middle class folk who crafted beautiful lanterns with their hands and lit lamps of warmth. Taught me one could be artistic and tasteful without throwing money.  

So many Diwalis, so many memories. One Diwali, years ago before I was born, my grandmother was a young mother and she had been called for a moment to speak to her neighbor, when her young daughter climbed up, took the sparklers, lit them and lit herself, burnt and died. My grandfather came home in the evening after a full days work, realized what had happened and instead of scolding my grandmother for negligence realized her anguish and consoled her and this is how they got through tragedies, together as a team. Today when so many marriages crumble on much less it’s shown me what marriage means. That Diwali, that tragedy was their test and they came through. 

The years went by, my father got married and I was the age my father’s sister was when she died. There had been another death in the family, my grandfather, a doting husband and a good father had died. Some of his sons were not yet in jobs and my father being the eldest son carried a heavy burden, his brothers had to come up well in life. My grandmother was grief-stricken once again as she had been that other Diwali day. I was 4 and every year before that, my being the only grandchild, my grandmother bought me a pavadai (skirt) of pure kanjeevaram silk. The blue with red border when I was 1, the sandalwood color with brown border when I was 2 and the green with orange zari when I was 3. But this year as my grandfather had died we were not celebrating Diwali. I was only 4, my grandfather had died, my father was sad and I also had developed allergic bronchitis which made me cough and vomit often. So it was a time of darkness in our lives. I sadly knew there would be no kanjeevaram silk pavadai for me this year, no sweets. So that morning I got up with nothing to look forward to.  

My friends were down at dawn lighting crackers with their new outfits while I gazed sadly from the second floor balcony. But then my mother’s mother, my other grandmother kissed me and handed a brown paper bag. Inside was a beautiful pink pavadai with two green zari strips. So someone had come through for me. I wore it and saw the two sparklers also in a box. I lit them, it was just a token. I soon vomited and had to remove the pavadai. But for a short moment wearing the pavadai and lighting the two simple sparklers I had experienced light in that long season of darkness and seeing the joy in my eyes I saw my father smile which he had not done in a long long time. 

Today I am grown and that Diwali has shown me that however dark life gets, there is always a glimmer of light and someone comes through for you and that is what Diwali really celebrates, getting from darkness to light. When God Rama came back to Ayodhya after 14 difficult years in exile, there was delight with lamps lit in the houses, the celebration after the suffering, the light after the darkness. Happy Diwali.