In the olden days what did I do for this festival of lights?
Frankly, I cannot even remember in entirety.
I think we washed our hair. I think some species of sweet things were created. I think we had the day off from school. In our household, we never spent huge amounts of money on crackers. My sis and I stuck to sparklers, snake, the occasional flower pot. We got a small packet of the red little bombs for dad to light (he liked to, up to a certain point of time, it was sort of like he was the only brave soul in the house who could light the bombs, rest of us wilting females). Our street would be littered with the debris of hundreds of rupees worth of crackers, at the end of the three days. Although most of the houses had kids in them, it was not a requirement. In fact, the rockets, the chains of bombs, the loudest toned things, were all lit by adults. Perhaps from the viewpoint of safety. Perhaps. Two little mud lamps would stand on our doorstep, on either side. We had a large number of lamps, in various materials of construction, that we would light all over the house (having secured all the door curtains on top, of course), but that was not on Deepavali day. It was sometime later. Cannot remember exactly when.
I don't remember any other tradition associated with the festival. I can feel some of the excitement of a new packet of sparklers, the responsibility with which I would stack the used sticks (still hot) away, the occasional fear when I nearly destroyed one or other of my mum's potted plants (I just thought I had, but my little matchstick of coloured light, reminding me of the poor little match girl, was no match for the wet mud and soon died, harming no living creature, plant or animal directly, only indirectly, the fumes....).
In 2004, I was the Deepavali Grinch. I hated it entirely. It was also our first Mumbai one. Noisy does not even describe it. The apartment complex of leviathan buildings that we lived in exploded in an outburst of joy. Bombs went BUD BUD. Rockets wheeeeeeeed past our window (shut securely, heat oppressive). The parking lot was infested with little boys lighting crackers everywhere, ridiculing the security guards if they tried to stop them. And the litter! My god! The litter they left behind. Most of all, it made my then six month old child wake up every few minutes. This was a child that woke when we flipped a switch, or, you know, breathed hard. So this was a crazy week. Mumbai so damn hot already. Clearly, I was not going to do anything at all for the festival. It was hardly a festival for me, most like torture!
I still don't like it. Its a festival of noise, smoke, and booby trapped roads. Possibly gluttony as well, but thankfully that is something I can choose to not take part in. However, I am feeling much less conflicted about it this year than the last one. Because I want my daughter to, well, not hate it, but sieve the wheat from the chaff and figure out a meaning to the whole thing, without overly imposing my views. Plus, I don't want to be the one to deny her the 'fun' - yes, I did have fun with it all as a child, and the part of my reason for hating all of it is the realisation that the fun comes at a big cost. I could tell her, here are three reasons why YOU should NOT burst crackers. Di Dah Doo. I could just not buy her anything at all. She would probably have a bit of a cry about it and tell me all that her friends said and so on, but that would be it. I did that for three years of her life, maybe even four. Before she became the social animal that she is now, with a trillion little people who she likes much more than Amma-Appa. Before her comprehension of what other adults tell her became so acute. Before we both ceased to be the only voices in her head.
Then last year, I let it go. I said, if you WANT to do this, you should. My husband, who also avoids the whole thing, took charge of the thing, albeit reluctantly (preferring TV or sleep to the process involved in bursting crackers with a child in tow, and listening to nagging by the participant ladies regarding violation of safety principles). So we had a small stack of crackers (which nevertheless cost trillions of rupees). I fished out an old-new sari - something that I had never worn and therefore could be considered 'new', and I think the monster had a new dress sort of coincidentally. I disliked the festival a bit less. We spent time with family.
This year, I am already a bit cranky about its impending arrival. I am hearing the bombs already. I am jumping out of my skin - which is not saying much, sometimes, absorbed in the intelligent task of boiling milk, I jump out of skin when the maid comes in. Its super hot here in Chennai, and I am confident that once the cracker-bursting reaches a crescendo, it will be hotter. The child is already after me to buy her crackers (of course I have outsourced it). I have responded as usual with 'If you want to, you can burst them' We have not yet figured out where to buy them, however, something ought to turn up, I suppose. I am not even feeling somewhat open-minded about the associated 'traditions' - whatever they might be, as last year. All I want to do is for for a long run in peace, play basketball with joy, and eat healthy food. But, I did feel enthusiastic about buying clothes (a tradition that is part of the season, per my husband), and we braved the mall yesterday. It was as usual a most disappointing and unnerving experience, but I must say, I hung in there, and managed to do the deed. Which means that there is at least one Salwar Kameez that has to find its way out from my cupboard, pronto (based on my buy one, release one rule, which I mostly stick to). Overall though, my mood is still dark. And it is with a sense of apprehension that I approach this week, at the end of it which the whole Deepavali business will unravel... Oh well...Onward we go...