Somedays, I go for solitary morning walks wrapped in my shawl.
The winter garden is faded with fog
and the wind among the branches
of the wayside trees is solemn and still.
I slip out of my kolhapuris
and walk barefoot on the dew-bathed grass.
Cold slowly starts to seep into me,
making me one with the wintry earth.
High on the trees, some birds begin to sing.
I take a deep breath and exhale,
the evidence of being alive comes out of my mouth
as a visual breath, like a cloud.
None of us saw this coming. It all seemed like something that was happening so far away, where we could have the emotional space to take a moment to feel sad for what was happening to people around the world, take a moment to romanticise the spirit of humanity looking at the Italians in their balconies. Heck, even take a moment to laugh at and forward memes.
[Photo credit - Nirmala Patil]
Once again, it is that time of the year… for genda (marigold) torans to brightly gleam on doorways, kitchens to puff up with the scent of homemade mithai (sweets) and namkeen (savouries), for the sweet chaos of shopping new clothes and gifts, for thousands of earthen diyas (lamps) to light up these last autumnal nights, and to make merry with family and friends. But it is also that time of the year where age-old traditions get seamlessly inherited by young ones, and old memories merge into new.
All the Diwalis of my childhood come huddled to meet the Diwalis I now celebrate with my own child. The old images I have in my mind of my father dressed in his white kurta pyjama stirring milk to make kheer in a large brass utensil on our Diwali mornings slowly renews into a newer image in my daughter’s mind as she sits on the kitchen counter watching me stir the cardamom-scented milk. The soft weight of gendas as I held their garlands in my little arms while my father hung them over our shop shutter is now transferred into my daughter’s five-year-old palms as she picks them up one by one from the basket and offers them to me to string into a garland.
Each year, as I watch more and more of my Diwali memories reshaping to become my daughter’s, I’m made acutely aware of the change in the landscapes of both our childhoods. Where during my times, wearing new clothes and receiving gifts on Diwali were truly special as they were decidedly annual affairs, perhaps besides birthdays. Today, neither wearing new clothes nor receiving gifts are exclusive to Diwali, thus, diluting their specialness. Then there’s the tradition of homemade festive snacks that are mostly, for convenience’s sake, replaced by store-bought treats, thus, making the festivities less intimate. The simplicity and richness of my old Diwali seems to be updated by the glamorous and expensiveness Diwali of today. And this withering of what was once both gratifying and deeply meaningful into something one-dimensional and overstimulating, bothers me and urges me to reconsider how we’d like to celebrate Diwali with our daughter this year and for years to come.
To begin with, maybe being a bit mindful of ‘what’ we’d like to fill-up our children’s festive memories with, can be a good gift to give them this Diwali. Choosing a signature family tradition like - partaking in the ritual of abhyanga snana first thing on festival mornings, or sitting with children stringing gendas to make garlands for doorways, or indulging their playful assistance in home-making simple festive snacks, or taking time to hand-roll cotton wicks to light earthen oil lamps; all of them can bring us together as family and stamp strong visual motifs in our little ones’ hearts. Instead of flooding them with excessive gifts, it maybe a valuable alternative to offer experiences through trips to natural environments, museums, libraries, national parks or ancient monuments. And in lieu of an evening spent bursting crackers, it maybe a more eco and friendly thought to invite our house-help and her children for an evening feast; not to teach our children how to treat her kindly but to show them how to treat her equally.
Maybe with these small, mindful ways we can choose joy over glamour this Diwali and help shape our children’s festive memories into a sweet thing of meaning and beauty.