Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Uneven Balance

At the end of very long days and specially if it happens to be an important Hindu festival, I ask myself what J and I are doing in this country far away from family, roots and culture ? There is no family within a thousand miles of us. We get by as well as we could hope to in a foreign country thanks to the kindness of strangers and friends. Yet, I can't but help think of Diwali and the flickering earthen lamps, the smell of firecrackers and the gentle nip in the air just when my neighbors set their Jack-o-lanterns on the patio.

J does not insist on a costume, nor is she terribly anxious to go out trick-or-treating. The day after, she will tell me what her other friends did for Halloween and no matter what she always comes into a lot of candy. In my mind, I am back home in India, imagining J bursting colorful fire-crackers, visiting friends and relatives and the overload of mishti that is part of such socialization. I never paid attention to festivals and rituals when it followed the natural course of my life back home.

Whether of not, I was an active participant, the world around me stopped spinning for a few days until the festivities and celebrations were over. Even a casual onlooker like myself was jolted out of the daily grind and thrust into the flow of things. Today, participation would involve driving thirty miles to the nearest Dussera celebration inside an auditorium. There would be no external sounds or signs of festivity.

The world outside would not stop spinning even for a nanosecond as we celebrate our biggest festival of the year. When we are done, we would drive back home, alone in our knowledge of where we were and what we did there or why it was so special to us. Having always been an onlooker and never a participant, I find it impossible to go the distance to a mere recreation of a festival that feels meaningless without the cultural and social context.

I cannot go through the mechanical motions without the world stopping around me, without everyone attuned to the same frequency, without festival being in the air - like it is here during Christmas. I miss home and I wonder what I am doing here. The day passes, life returns to its usual pace in India. I feel in equilibrium once again - somewhat.

I figure I would have slaved a sixteen hour day there like I once did, J would be back in school coping with a demanding curriculum, there would be an eight hour power-cut in the middle of summer, the tap would run dry just before I got into the shower, the unctuous neighbor would advise me to return to my "husband" and accept my lot in marriage, my married boss would ask me for a late evening coffee at the local Barista to catch up on work-stuff and make me wonder if I should let HR know this was the fifth time in a month and I was viewing it as harassment.

My aunt would pay me a surprise visit and bring my favorite Hisla curry along, my mother would tell J a story from Ramayan every night at bedtime, my best friend P would invite me to spend a day at her house on Sunday and I would be laughing until my sides hurt because P tells the best jokes in the world. Mala, the domestic help would tell J stories about her village in Sunderbans and the magical powers of Bon Devi the Goddess of the forest.

All that on one side of the scale must balance my freedom to be, live my life on my own terms and let J grow up without needing to be a multi-tasking, competition-crushing student-bot. Some days, I can't seem to tell when side is lighter and I wonder about where I am, what I am doing, where I am headed from here. When I close my eyes, I can see a thousand earthen lamps flickering in the darkness, hear the fireflies and smell the sulphuric smell of spent fireworks.


shakester said...

thats a lovely post. I havent6 checked where you are, but it seems far. Here, we do have a fair bit of 'festivities' for diwali, and we try to meet and play cards and light diyas.

But I know what you mean about not necessarily being a participant but being surrounded by it anyway ; abuot the smell of firecrackers, and the haze ; about the hyper-enthusiastic family and friends around who I am happy to give all the responsibility of 'celebrating' to......

happy diwali...

Anonymous said...

Happy Diwali.

Take care.

Gtest said...


I think i have been following your blogs from sulekha days..I am a silent admirer of your blog as well as you!!
Today I couldnt help commenting on your feeling...Things always change...

I like your blogs abt J the best. We shall keep in touch!1