It was sometime in October it struck me that soon it would be that time of the year again. Diwali. In past many years, I would not be at home for this occasion. Not that it would a big pompous celebration. More so after my sister’s wedding and her transplantation into her husband’s home, the pomp at our home has rather been reduced. Yet, even reduced pomp would be much brighter than Diwali in America, which is usually celebrated either in advance or after Diwali due to the event often falling on a weekday. Moreover, Diwali in India is not just about celebration at home. It’s also a lot about being soaked in the spirit of the festival experienced through the idiosyncrasies of the neighbors, of the kids blowing up crackers even at 4 am, of the insulin-injecting-diabetes-pained aunts slyly devouring extra sweetened gulab jamuns, of the brightening up of all the houses and buildings and not just Empire State building. I have a very poor memory. I don’t know if I ever had all these experiences or this is just my unusual romanticism with most things Indian. Regardless, I felt that I would miss all this if I decided to stay in New York. This, thus, sowed the first seeds of the idea of coming to New Delhi for Diwali.
What pushed the idea significantly ahead was the fact that off late, I hadn’t delivered any strong happy news to my parents. Fine, I recently completed my MBA from an American University. It was no where close to something like I got married. Or I became father. Or I came home for Diwali unannounced. There you go. Their happiness would know no bounds if I get home for this biggest family festival of Hindu calendar. My mother’s complaints about being lonely on Diwali in the past years had given me a fair picture of what they would be like if did not come home. My father would be asleep by 8:30 in the evening after the laxmi pujan. My mother would be watching TV like other three-sixty-four days of the year.
Thus I decided to come home. After all, doesn’t the romanticism of Diwali include home coming of Ram? At a short notice I got cheapest tickets with Kuwait Airways, which I regretted later though.
In America, a usual greeting is ‘What’s up’. Of course, all cultures of have their own versions of what’s up. India or the Hindi-speaking India has “Aur sunao”, “Nayi taazi?”, “Kya haal chaal”. Irrespective of the flavor, this greeting would often annoy the hell out of me because I detest pattern repetition, more so such repetition in my own responses. I just could not stand me saying ‘Nothing much’ or ‘bas badhiya’ all the time to someone. I am ready to be accused of having retarded social skills for not coming up with new responses each time. I just didn’t like boring the crap out of a person by responding to him or her with this redundant reply every time. But now, when any friend or colleague who would say, ‘what’s up’, I would launch into an excited reply, “Well, I am going home for Diwali. What’s more, I am landing on the day of Diwali. My folks have no idea that I will be there! It would be just like K3G movie. Except a helipad.”.. And now, the innate entertainer in me would feel so happy to see the other person so engaged and excited and enthused. In any relationship, I often take it upon myself to engage and entertain the other person. I do not know the name that the social psychologists give to this disorder. I just like to crack people up. Sometimes I succeed; sometimes I end up embarrassing myself. But with this reply, everyone was excited and happy. I wasn’t even worried about anyone spilling beans to my family about my arrival because I knew damn well that my life outside my family is highly insulated from the one inside. This and any other blog I ever wrote, has never been read by my folks. It’s quite interesting to have this dichotomous life. I guess many Indians or many bi-lingual people lead those lives.
In my flight to New Delhi, I sat next to this interesting country girl from England who was on her soul searching trip to India. She gave me useful tips of reducing the ear-disturbance during landing and take-off of the planes. Well she offered me sweet candies for that. Interestingly, she used those candies for many purposes, including keeping her breath fresh every time I popped a Wrigley’s gum. The best gift she gave me was the phrase ‘country-bumpkin’. That’s the British version of the funny American phrase hillbilly !
As soon as I landed at the Airport, I changed from my country bumpkin’s clothes into a three piece suit and cleaned up real well. When I emerged out of the Men’s room, the Brit conceded that I didn’t look sexy, I looked New York sexy. She had never been to New York. But I took that as an assurance that I had completed this part in my theatrics of Meet the Parents. I do not usually dress up to see my family. They have seen me in all shapes, sizes and colors. Yet, on my last visit to India, I drew a lot of flak for not being nice and clean ( after completing an over 20 hour ordeal across continents). Outside the airport, I approached a pre-paid taxi stand and on hearing the fare of Rs 360 for getting home which was less than 8km from the airport, I got my first reverse cultural shock. Even though I had no bench mark for taxi fare because I either drove or used public transport in India, this first exposure to a three digit expense in last two years woke me from my sub-conscious slumber of jet-lag now. I surrendered though; theatrics had to be complete after all.
The taxi-driver was friendly. He met me first time this morning and asked, “kaise ho”. I launched into my overly enthusiastic detailed reply about my unannounced visit to home. He told that he also did the same when he would go to Bhagal Pur. He wasn’t going home for Chatth this time though. Too much time and rising prices would force his wife to observe chhath in a makeshift pond in Delhi this year. While chatting, I would adjust my place in this rickety taxi every once in a while to make sure that I was not overexposing my head to the wind that would screw up my recently made hair. There would be no big a** mirrors like those at Indira Gandhi International and the only comb I had was now buried deep in one of the two identical bags I carried.
Despite preparation for over a month for this moment, as I opened the gate of my house at 7am and started walking upstairs, my heart was pounding like the dog that chased me on my last visit to Delhi. I blame my funny looking red short for that though. I was here, in front of doorbell. There was no mirror for a last minute check. I took the name of Bhagwan Shankar and rang the bell, assured that I was all good. Out of anxiety and nervousness, I rang multiple bells. Something that only I or my sister do. My father opened the door thinking that it was my sister. My mother stood by refrigerator, staring at me, probably just having finished with a call to her brother. I could sense a pause of one second in the timeline of universe. I really did. Our eyes were frozen. Our minds were pacing. To understand what was going on. And now it happened. She cried. They hugged. We hugged. We were oblivious of the two identical bags and the friendly taxi driver from Bhagal Pur on the street downstairs. Three of us hugged for several minutes we took to absorb that this happened. I knew my parents were happy. Very happy. But I wanted to experience that happiness. I wanted to know how much happy they were. When someone is enjoying a chocolate and making those umm sounds, I know she is enjoying that chocolate a lot. But I can’t experience that by just looking at her and by hearing those sounds. I was happy too. I knew my parents were happier still. I probably can never experience their joy till I become a father.
Regardless, I was happy that all this meticulous planning and theatrical delivery resulted into a Happy Diwali –