FESTIVE SPIRIT/THEN & NOW
Around this time each year I watch, with a certain longing, my colleagues lug their bags across the office floor rushing to catch the last flight of the day to their hometowns.
To many of us the festive season invariably means heading
home — that place from where it all started and in whose
familiar surroundings we find a solace that no hotel room or
rented apartment can ever offer.
For some of us, this solace is but just a flight, a bus or a
train journey away. Others such as you and me must look for
Diwali was never a festival I looked forward to — I even
stopped celebrating it a few years ago after I moved out of
my parents’ home. Yet, every year around this time I find
that familiar feeling creep back into my heart.
A Diwali of my own
After running through rebellion and nostalgia,
Abhishek Mande brings the festivities home this year.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
The festive spirit at my parents’ home would begin at least
a few months before Diwali — to be specific around the time
of Ganesh Chaturthi when my father would walk to a particular store that stocked clay Ganeshas brought from a village called Pen in Maharashtra and pick up a particular idol
that my grandfather would have booked weeks in advance.
The 10 days that followed would see a steady stream of
friends, cousins, aunts and uncles, and, as far as I remember, the stream never really died out till almost the beginning of the following year.
After the Ganesh festival was over, Navratri would begin,
then Dussehra followed by Diwali and then would come
Christmas and New Year’s Eve — the two festivals that were
added to my family’s calendar thanks to my sister’s and my
Diwali would probably begin around the time when my
grandmother, unable to stand by the gas stove for long,
would pull out a kerosene stove, pour out sinful amounts of
oil in a kadai (wok) to make snacks that I hated then.
It was also perhaps the only time of the year when my
grandmother and mother would share the kitchen and not
be at each other’s throats.
Rangoli would usually be my mother’s department, as
she’d try to negotiate for space in the narrow balcony of our
three-room house. She would wistfully talk about the
rangolis they would draw in their village home — a sprawling
bungalow where they lived as tenants for all their growing
up years before moving into a tiny apartment in Mumbai.
In all these years, I never once asked her about her childhood home that she so often spoke about or the Diwalis she
This year I did.
Since the time I moved out, I’ve rarely visited my parents
on Diwali, choosing rather to be at loud parties with
strangers, dousing copious amounts of alcohol and nursing
a hangover in the hope of getting rid of that damned niggling longing.
Then one Diwali I decided to do what my colleagues do
each year: I went home.
It was probably then that I realised that it wasn’t the home
I’d left behind. Nothing was the same. The familiarity I had
hoped to return to was nowhere to be found.
It has been years since my grandparents passed away. My
uncle, who stayed with us, has moved on and has started a
family of his own; my sister, travelling on and off for work,
sometimes finds herself in an alien city celebrating Diwali
with people she’s just met.
When I went there I realised that the apartment block
bore an uneasy silence — none of the friends I had grown up
with lived there any more — and the house that always
seemed too crowded and too small for my liking suddenly
seemed so empty.
My parents welcomed me, of course, and we must’ve spoken about something completely inconsequential because
the only memory I have of that visit is of returning to a
colony and a house that I was almost sure I never lived in.
This year, mum told me about the village house she grew
up in and the Diwalis she celebrated there with her three
She told me of the diyas (earthen lamps) they made at
home, the lanterns they stuck with aata (glue made from
wheat flour) because there was no glue available then, the
maternal uncle who always, always travelled from Bombay
(it wasn’t Mumbai then) to meet their mother on Bhai Dooj
and the occasional firecrackers they could afford. There was
never enough money in the house, but no one seemed to
notice that in all the fun they had.
They weren’t any extraordinary stories that came out of
that conversation, but I realise that they were stories that
she cherished and ones that she held on to for the longest
time as she moved away from the idyllic surroundings of the
place she was born and grew up in, to a strange city and a
new life that her husband chose for her.
‘Didn’t you ever want to go back?’ I asked her, ‘That was
‘I did go back,’ she told me, ‘A few years ago.’
And then mum said something that was probably clichéd,
but true nonetheless, ‘The house your father brought me to
became my home.’
During the trip, mum realised that the village house was
no longer her home. And it wasn’t because everything there
had changed, but rather because she had changed.
Sometime in between playing wife, daughter-in-law and a
mother, she realized that the tiny apartment in the heartless
city was the haven she would want to return to each night
after a long day at work.
And even after all of us had moved on, the Diwalis she
spent with just my dad for company and occasionally my
sister were not spent longing for a home that she’d left
behind, but rather cherishing the moments she had with the
people around her.
Later that night, when I went home I reached out to an
essay that almost often and for some inexplicable reason
offers a strange sense of solace for the wandering soul.
Out of Kansas by Salman Rushdie talks about, among
other things, The Wizard Of Oz — the movie not the book —
Dorothy’s struggles to get back home and the magical ruby
slippers that would help her do just that.
And even as Dorothy goes back to her rather uneventful
farm in Kansas, Rushdie, the nomad, argues:
‘The real secret of the ruby slippers is not that “there’s no
place like home,” but rather that there is no longer any such
place as home: Except, of course for the homes we make, or
the homes that are made for us, in Oz, which is anywhere
and everywhere, except the place from which we began.’
So, this year, I suspect there may not be any loud parties or
that feeling of longing. And just perhaps there might be an
earthen lamp outside the door of a place that is my home. ;
Abhishek Mande, a features writer at Rediff.com, is a dreamer,
which is to say he loves to gas around and sleep.