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Sound and light, without the soul
October 14, 2008
September has just ended -- and for me, it has always been the month of new beginnings. Here in India my children start the new grade in April, then go on holiday for July and August. The school is actually moving to a January -- December calendar, so this year, my children will be entering their new grade in February, then next year in January, almost nine months ahead of their peers in the United States.
September continues to feel special to me in India mainly because after getting back in July, I'm a lot more organized and more importantly in hot as a sauna Delhi [Images], the weather is cooler during this month, promising a brighter few months ahead. A close friend from France [Images] who married an Indian has lived in India twelve years, and who can haggle over the price of tomatoes better then me, says that every year by late September, she decides that yes, India is not so bad, she's quite happy living here. Of course, that changes by March when heated winds and the alarming sun arrive.
September is also the start of the festival season, and people generally are happier once Navratri begins, as they begin looking forward to cooler weather, Karva Chauth, Dusshera, Diwali and then ending off with Christmas and the New Year. Life begins to get hectic at this time with the beginning of what another friend calls the 'social season', when several dinner parties a week become common as everyone tries to get their entertaining in.
As in the past years, September also means that I've begun to be pressed into service for the condominium's Diwali party. We live in a gated complex in Gurgaon. In the first couple of years, the Diwali party was the highlight of the social life in the complex. In the two years since we've been back, I see a modernization in India which would have been unthinkable a few years ago. 'I can't help out with the Diwali party,' my friend Geetu replied, when I asked. 'I'm going to Goa [Images] on a holiday.' A few short years ago, this would have been unheard of. Imagine, someone missing Diwali with their extended family to go on vacation? However, as India's corporate workers get busier and holidays taken become compressed American style, any vacation is time to take a vacation, no longer a religious and cultural necessity to stay at home.
My memories from childhood involved Diwali on trips to India with neighbors and plates of mithai. We did pooja at home, then visited neighbors with tea plates, quarter plates or full plates of mithai based on the level of caring for the family, and they reciprocated with mithai which was lovely and wonderful, as it was not a daily occurrence.
Fast forward to 2008, and we are looking at another Designer Diwali as I call them. Many expensive gifts will arrive which may include chocolates, but more likely something for the house. The only people who appreciate mithai these days are the servants, who do not get it on a regular basis. In Gurgaon's gated communities we are at a post-food age. We are strengthened by what we do not eat. I've switched from baking at Christmas to baking at Diwali. As a stand against the whole designer gift brigade, I buy some sort of candles and wrap misshapen homemade brownies and cookies to send to our friends.
If Diwali has any religious significance, it no longer comes to the fore. I think that Indians in the US are often more religious then ones in India, as religion in the US is part and package of the culture. Here the culture is there all the time; we do not need a festival to serve as a marker for our cultural and religious heritage. In any case, in a transient place like Gurgaon it is hard to meet anyone who's religious in any ritualistic fashion.
My children understand the basic whys of Diwali. The first telling of the Ramayan terrified my older son, who was five and a half at the time. He kept asking his father if he was going to take me to the forest and leave me there until December.
For us Diwali, is spent with my in-laws at pooja; then we light some firecrackers outside the building with other children from the building. Due to our children learning about the harm caused by firecrackers to the environment and to the children making them, and of the danger of accidents, such awareness is reducing the use of firecrackers for Diwali. This of course pits my husband and children against each other, as my husband's memories mean that kids are supposed to be outside with firecrackers celebrating Diwali, while my children are warned against its dangers and have no memories of fun. We compromise by lighting a few crackers in spirit and watch others sending up giant crackers outside of our windows at night.
Coming back to the annual Diwali party, it was quite the affair when we first arrived, and a lot of the people who originally bought into the building were of similar sensibilities and liked to socialize together. Dancing was fun. Everyone knew each other. Now we have plenty of expats, particularly East Asian ones, and attendance is steadily declining as a result. Even newcomers who do not know others too well are not keen to come. Diwali is truly going the way of Christmas in the US -- a time to shop, socialize with friends (which means playing poker), and to treat it as just another holiday.
Kitty Chachra migrated from San Mateo, California, to Gurgaon, outside New Delhi in 2005
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