No matter how old you are, there is always a little child in you who constantly looks for a parent figure, seeking metaphorical comfort in a protective, loving hand over one’s head. And you miss it the most when it is no longer within physiological reach.
It’s now a little over 5 years since I lost my mother. While there are many small things in daily life that trigger a memory of her, the floodgates to memories open every Diwali. It’s almost as if the festival of lights guides you home to what matters most – family!
Amma. The home and family revolved around her because she held it all together.
Growing up, right through the school years, the preparations for Diwali would start weeks ahead with the house stripped down and cleaned till everything shone like it was new. That in itself lit up the home!
As children, we enjoyed the build up though admittedly our minds were more on the Diwali shopping for new clothes and the anticipation of dressing up in all that Diwali finery. If the home shone clean bright, so did we come Diwali in our traditional Indian finery. Being a Tam Brahm household, that meant brightly colored pattu pavadais (silk long skirts with gold threads woven in the borders) for my sister and me.
On Diwali day, we’d be hauled out of bed at the unearthly hour of 4 in the morning to have a traditional bath. Which meant we were first doused all over the body in oil and then scrubbed down with sandalwood paste. Fresh faced, with newly washed tresses dressed in reams of flowers further adorning our new pattu pavadais, we’d be taken around the house to light up all the earthen lamps placed in strategic locations inside and outside. All the while, there would be delicious aromas wafting out from the kitchen.
Those early Diwali mornings are etched more firmly in my memories than the festivities that followed – be it the house filled with relatives and friends or all those sweetmeats and gifts. It’s rather telling. Why do those morning rituals hold more meaning? I guess it’s because the rituals were intimate family time conducted predawn in preparation for welcoming the ‘light’. Or, perhaps it’s because one remembers the amount of hard work put in by Amma to make the occasion a special one for her family. Or, is it because one regrets that in later years one went off to celebrate Diwali with friends and all-night parties? Leaving Amma to light the lamps. And feed her errant daughter whenever she sleepily surfaced to greet Diwali day.
If Amma were alive today, I would wake up at 4 in the morning on Diwali and go through the rituals with her….letting her know that the next generation will keep the family light alive and welcoming.
Amma is not present in earthly life. But when she was, she did show us the way home. On Diwali and every other day. But specially on Diwali. By doing so, she brought alive the true meaning of Diwali, which traces its antecedents to the Indian epic The Ramayana. The story goes that when Lord Ram and Sita were returning to Ayodhaya, it was Amavasya* (New Moon). To guide their steps back home, every villager and inhabitant of dwellings en route placed lit lamps outside the doors of their residences to light up the path of their king and his entourage on a moonless night.
Today, I am really pleased to see campaigns such as Pepsi and Kurkure’s gharwalidiwali* promoting Diwali as the light that guides you home to family. Watching the film brought tears to my eyes and inspired this post, which I would like to dedicate to my Amma, Kamala Subramanian, and my second mother, Pushpa Wala, who also made Diwali special for her family, including me in that circle on many an occasion.
Happy Diwali! May the Festival of Lights welcome you home to family!
The Featured Image in this post is by Siddarth Varanasi (DSC_0458) – uploaded on Flickr.com under Creative Commons license.
*The Pepsico campaign gharwalidiwali can be viewed on https://www.gharwalidiwali.com/
*Amavasya – a Sanskrit word meaning 24 hours of the new moon day. The fact that the Hindu festival of Diwali is celebrated on an Amavasya day acquires more meaning when one knows the word’s etymology i.e. in Sanskrit, “ama” means “together” and “vasya” means “to dwell” or “cohabit” (Wikipedia).