A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happy Diwali!

Today is Diwali, the biggest Hindu festival of the year. Diwali is like our Christmas, New Years, and the 4th of July all rolled into one. In Hinduism, Diwali marks the return of Lord Raama to his kingdom after 14 years and defeat of the Demon King. Often called the festival of lights, the streets and homes are lit up with burning candles and lamps. It is the time to clean the house to welcome and worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. There is a generous spirit, affectionate visits between friends and family, and the exchanging of small gifts.

Amit picked us up and we went to Amber Fort, an impressive fortress with walls climbing the hills like the great wall of china (or so I think since I‘ve never been to china…yet). We hoped to ride an elephant but the handlers, smartly, took the day off to celebrate. Instead we walked around and took in the views. I saw a taxi driver yell at a monkey and throw water on him. Disgusted, I followed the monkey to see what all the fuss was about and found out they are cheeky little devils that will snatch anything they can get their paws on. There was a tree-full of them (better than a barrelful) leaping onto the walls, finding a victim to scare and steal their chiapati before making an acrobatic escape. Amit and I got a little too comfortable sitting on the wall, blocking their escape route that one nearly leapt off our backs.

On the way back we saw the Jal Mahal Palace. It was so beautiful reflecting off the water. I always wanted to live by a lake, but to live on a lake is a level of seclusion Ron and I would both love right about now, being two home-bodies forced out into the world for 5 months and counting. Ah, the nightly row back to our water palace. That sounds mighty good.

Now was time to get ready for the evening festivities. The moment I dreaded. After the dress disaster, I decided to buy some pink sequined shoes to wear with a dress I bought in Africa. Ron looked smashing in his white punjabi suit. Everyone complimented him, trying not to comment on what I was wearing, like they were disappointed I didn‘t even make an effort. I was dying inside.

I could see the same look in the eyes of Amit’s family when we arrived. They had surely all heard the story by now. Within minutes of arriving, I was led into the front room where auntie, mother, and sister dressed me in a burgundy salwar kameez. All my embarrassment dissolved in their knowing gazes as they transformed me silently into an Indian queen. You don’t need language to communicate what was happening, what they were so generously doing for me. Taking jewelry off themselves to place on me. Carefully applying makeup. The final touch was a dot on my third eye. It was a Cinderella moment, and infinitely superior than the best fitting tailor-made sari. Those horrible tailors did me an immense favor, I thought and smiled, surrounded by three angels. They smiled back, approvingly, at their job well done and showed me off to the rest of the house with pride.

Sister set up the altar to Ganesha and Lakshmi. and made a design in colored sand called rangoli. The ritual was fascinating with offerings of rice, perfume, and saffron paste. Then hand rolled cotten wicks were placed in terracotta bowls filled with ghee and lit up all around. We were included in the puja like any other member of the family. Circling the incense in front of the altar. Ringing a bell along with the chanting. Receiving vermillion on our foreheads and colored string on our wrists (left for women, right for men). It was a deeply touching ceremony to be so intimately allowed to see and experience.

Fireworks were lit every night for the days and weeks leading up to the crescendo of Diwali that echoed for hours with bursts of light in red, orange, and pink. At first, it was like living out a little kids fantasy - lighting giant rockets you can buy for twenty five cents that are twenty five times better than anything in Mexico. You can literally make your own KABOOM! in your backyard, and on this night a billion Indians do just that. The spent casings filling up the streets like overstuffed sofa stuffing. After a few hours of ear shattering explosions inches away from cherry bombs thrown by neighboring kids, I was ready to retreat to the sanctuary of the house. It was a wild and dangerous night to be out - near misses, close calls, cars driving too fast down streets over lit fuses exploding like hand grenades. I’m just not used to unregulated activities that can cause permanent damage, my ears still ringing the next day.

We ate dinner on the kitchen floor at half past midnight. A delicious thali made by Mom with lentils, spicy aloo, curd, soup, and piping hot chiapati. I was so hungry I only noticed after a few minutes that I was the only female eating with all the men. I guess as a guest this was the protocol but the rest of the women ate later. This left ample opportunity for Mom to lord over us and lavish as much food as possible onto our plates and into our bellies. I enjoyed sitting lotus style on the floor but Ron was cramped up and looked pained sitting on his knees.

The whole experience spending Diwali in the warmth of an Indian home was exceedingly special and tops the list as one of our best memories of the trip.


emiko November 22, 2009 at 6:01 PM  

Hey, Alison & Ron!

What a wonderful story of your Diwali celebration experience. That photo of you both all dressed up is too precious - love it.

travel safe, stay healthy...

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