I wake up in the warm room under a fast-spinning ceiling fan. Not sure what time it is but broad daylight is flowing through the fleeting white cotton curtains. There is a repeated thud coming from outside. At first I can’t make out what it is. Some household chore? Construction work? Children playing? Then I realize it’s firecrackers. Diwali fun has already started.
We have just arrived at Appa‘s parents’ in southern India. We are in full jet lag mode, going to sleep and waking up at odd times. We have come to celebrate Diwali as a family. The 13-years-old son of Appa’s sister is also here. He flew from England on his own for the first time.
Diwali is a Hindu festival celebrating the end of the exile of prince Rama, his wife Sita, and his brother Lakshmana after adventures that include his father’s kingdom snitched away for his stepbrother by his stepmother, Sita being abducted by the ten-headed demon Ravana, Rama and Lakshmana freeing her with the decisive help of the monkey minister Hanuman and his extraordinary army of monkeys (aka the Ramayana epic).
It is very dark on the night they return at last to Rama’s kingdom so the sky is magically illuminated to guide them there. Lights are therefore central to Diwali celebrations, in the form of little oil lamps (dias) and a broad variety of sparklers, firecrackers, and rockets. For days in a row, culminating on the night of Diwali proper, yards and streets are filled with sounds and lights.
It is a very special time for Indian children, so it means a lot that Minette and her cousin are here together with their family to share the timeless fun of Diwali, slowly depleting the large supply of firecrackers their grandfather has bought for them.
At night the usually quiet street my in-laws live on turns into a noisy show of bright lights and sparks. It is a joy to see Minette and her cousin operate together. She is cautious, sometimes afraid of the sparks. He is older and usually bolder.
Being here together means our children get to experience the real Diwali, not the subdued version we can offer them in England or in America. It also means the experience of Appa and his parents now resonates in the children’s lives as they continue the tradition. Even I, the Diwali outsider, can feel the rippling back and forth between old and future memories. So I imagine the effect must be even more powerful for my Indian relatives.
Meanwhile, Minette has decided to talk about Diwali for her school assignment to bring back a photo journal from her India trip. Her presentation includes interviews with her grandparents evoking their childhood memories of the festival. She is building yet another connection by her own means.
The Diwali lights are now off but they keep shining through many facets of our family’s life.