Frankly speaking, the very onset of the season of "celebration", of Navratras, Eid and the rest makes me nervous, combative, restless, complaining and nostalgic, all at once.
Festivals in India often boil down to people to be visited, gifts to be exchanged, the goof-ups in these banalities and their resolution. There isn't a single moment of reflection, not an iota of that thing called peace.
On every festive occasion I painfully realize that the most memorable festivals are the ones I have spent in Germany. These are moments I often go back to when I feel most ruffled. For these were moments of bonding not between relatives but among individuals. Gifts were founded on love and appreciation and not on shoulds and musts.
I remember the Christmas I spent with a family of close friends when I was the privileged 'Christmas guest'. We in India make such a noise about loving and worshipping our families, yet how much quality time do we actually spend with those closest to us? At this Christmas, however, their family had come together only and exclusively for each other. Everything else seemed to have frozen with the snow outside. My 60-year old friend had braved the weather to pluck Mistletoe and holding it above his wife, he kissed her - radiating the conviction, love and luck Mistletoe has come to symbolize in European folklore. And we just constantly chatter about traditions when all we wish to follow are rituals.
I often wonder why I keep going back to the silence of this snowy Christmas night. There was nothing spectacular, nothing lavish about the evening. It was so simple and so precious.
One of the most terrific Diwalis I ever had was in Germany a couple of years ago. Unlike the comfortably cool Diwali weather of Delhi, cooing the onset of winter, that winter evening in Germany was a rather chilly one. But so what. Draped in our chiffons and silks, we organized a grand Diwali party and had the Germans dancing to Daler Mehndi.
Our 'uncle' from an Indian restaurant organized the catering and given the German love for Indian food, there were many binding forces around. The great revelation was that 'kheer' is not very unlike 'Milchreis' which most Germans grow up eating.
Most of the Indians in the group hardly knew each other until a few days ago. Yet, we connected like Indians abroad usually do, bound by a common cause. We had cut out the crap perhaps by default.
Is Diwali, as I knew it, lost forever? I remember when we were young, days before Diwali, our grandmother used to start making mithai and namkeen in the small courtyard of our small but cozy home. I had come to associate that sizzle of oil and the aroma of freshly fried maththi with Diwali. For me, it is one of those olfactory memories which never leave you.
We used to imitate our grandparents rolling wicks out of cotton-wool. I used to delight in soaking the earthen lamps, the diyas, in water and later, with the watchful guard of my father, in pouring them with oil and lighting them. Shift the frame to now - dozens of designer lamps - scented, glittered and sexy. That tiny flame of the diyas often flickers in my mind - exuding warmth that is lost.
As we grew up, we were groomed to accept distance - both physical and emotional. I do not remember the last time I spent a Diwali with my grandmother. Now, just like with most of us, the doors of our large, spacious, stony house remain open for guests walking in with huge, flashy gifts which my parents dutifully return. It seems to be a zero sum game.
As for mithai and namkeen, it can be custom-made - and in style that grannies typically do not manage. What would you like on the packing madam, zardozi or stone embroidery?
It is the time for big-bonuses, jumbo-deals and mega-sales. Did I hear micro-emotions? What's with your tacky sentimentality - be practical yaar! Lists are to be drawn out of people to be visited - remember to highlight those you missed out last year. Now or never is the time to ingratiate yourself with the right people, who matter from a strategic point of view - until the next Diwali or their retirement, whichever is earlier.
Isn't it sad that we dilute the impact of the few things, the few relationships which do matter by trying to please everyone all the time - and often against our wishes.
Someone, go look for Diwali. And wake me up then. Fury has replaced faith. We have moved from rangoli to razzmatazz. Simplicity is lost among all things snazzy. We are so conditioned to delight in the devilish that we no longer celebrate harmony.
I know, such cynical reflections are hardly the way to walk towards Diwali. But as I see sever-year-olds write essays on the "festival of lights" year after year, I wonder why the lights grow dimmer as they grow up.
A friend always quoted Bruce Barton and this is what comes to mind - "Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things".
Despite all things big and small, I dig in for remnants of hope. May be, the best Diwali is yet to come. Let's see.
Happy Diwali folks!