Diwali’s changed. It isn’t the most exciting time of the year, when we all got together and the lights were blinding. It’s changed because I’m not home.
Going to Calcutta in November has become a rarity. I fool myself into believing that Diwali’s overrated, that we all grew up, that it can never be what it was.
That we will never find joy in bursting all those sky shots that looked like meteors made of flash powder – because we were naïve and we’re not kids anymore, and we understand a thing or two about environmental problems.
My father doesn’t take us to the Victoria Memorial Maidan to buy crackers. There is no negotiating with the vendors on the rates of the crackers, or arguing about whether Standard makes better fireworks or Cock. We don’t procure chocolate bombs illegally so we can light them in our hands and throw them on the streets. There is no more jugaad to be done.
The empty Thumbs Up glass bottles that were so ardently saved by my mother so we could burst rockets are lost and forgotten. The empty corridors are bereft of the rangoli that we took hours to paint and perfect on Diwali eve. They look sullen and needy. We don’t take the elevator to the tenth floor of our apartment, only to run down the stairs and judge the rangoli outside each house, come back home on the first floor and rave about how ours was the best. My next-door neighbour Piya lives in Bombay and my younger sister Chahna moved to Hyderabad. Diwali day is almost as ordinary as any other. It feels incomplete to not have anything in particular to do.
There is no rush to wake up, get ready and run to distribute sweets to our neighbours. Boxes of sweets that we gave don’t come back to us. They don’t rotate among all the flats in the apartment, before coming back to our house. We don’t laugh about eating our own sweets that were not meant for us.
My mother lights all the diyas in the house alone. We are not there to fill them with mustard oil and add a wick of cotton to each of them. My father hangs the serial lights on the window sill by himself. My mother tells me that the evening aarti that we would be so eager to sit in, got over in no time because our turn to move the several silver coins from a bowl of water to a bowl of milk, didn’t come. I can’t feel the coldness of the milky silver on my fingertips and the smell of the white lily incense sticks don’t reach my home in Bangalore. My father has also saved on some kharchi money because there is nobody to give it to after the prayers. This year again my mother will call me and sing Om Jai Jagdish on the phone, just so I can sing along. She knows I’m going to cry again.
We are missed at family gatherings where we drank with our parents until the smoggy morning told us to sober up. We are not tired and dirty from bursting all the crackers we spent so much money buying. The faint fragrance of the raat ki rani flowers that lingered through the month, the fragrance that defined Diwali, can only be smelt in memory. And I’m sitting in my undecorated room in Bangalore waiting for the lights to go out.