Living away from home during the pujas is particularly hard for me, as I assume it is for every Indian in a similar situation. It doesn’t matter how far away you are because the honed familiarity of the puja season routine never fails to make you feel like you’re home.
The first thing is always being forced to spend time with relatives I wished would move to Canada already. I used to anxiously await their arrival, sitting in my itchy kurta, customer-service smile plastered on my face. I would always dread it and count down the moments until I could go out into the sun and take pictures. But I find myself missing the drama that comes with customarily required family reunions, and accept that the only drama I will be involved in this year is the long list of SRK movies I will be re-watching, alone, in my room.
Another important aspect of Diwali is the fashion. The sarees and lehengas and kurtas, bindis and polkis and mehendi. Usually, I would find myself walking M Block Market in GK (New Delhi), scouting out the best mehndi artists. It was always an adventure, always a gamble, the thrill of choice between endless versions of the same peacock. This year, I bought little packets of mehndi from an Indian store in Parramatta, and will hopefully be able to design simple mandalas on my left hand. I plan on practicing on other people first, obviously, turning them into my test subjects under the guise of homesickness. Who would deny a homesick girl some happiness at the cost of an uneven design that would wear off in a week?
I am not allowed to make a rangoli outside my room because of the carpeted flooring. I will have to settle for a hand-drawn design stuck on my door to welcome Laxmi into my humble abode. I thought this was celebrating Diwali the wrong way, and someone would come and chastise me for ruining the festival. There are so many traditions I feel like I am flaking on without a good enough excuse, but a lot of living by yourself is about compromise. Technically, I will not be celebrating Diwali. I can go to the Indian student union’s Diwali ball and dance to Gal Mitthi Mitthi and call it a day, but where is the tradition in that? Where is the stress that is caused by my little cousins sitting in my room with gulab jamun juice dripping down their chins? Where is my broken heel, my faulty zipper, my empty bottle of white rangoli powder?
In my experience, a lot more goes into Diwali than those seemingly trivial things, the most important of which is all the love that is celebrated. Diwali is the festival of lights, and I like to think that relates more to the light we nurture and share as a society than the incessant burning of firecrackers and fireworks. And I know that no matter where I am, and no matter how many times I’ve watched DDLJ, I am celebrating Diwali the right way because my spirit is in the right place.