At home in Delaware it passed with little fanfare. Perhaps we would light some dhiyas and put them out on the front steps. But my mom would soon blow them out, murmuring about the fall leaves catching fire. I remember holding illegal sparklers in my hand, arm stretched out as far from my body as I could. I was nervous that police would come and see my holiday transgression. In the pitch dark of a suburban, North American, East Coast, November evening I thought about the monkey-god Hanuman leaping across the sea to Lanka.
The first time I visited India in the fall, I was 18, just graduated from high school, taking a year to discover my roots before going to college. My two best friends from school came with me. That night, we perched high up on a rooftop in Gujarat, languishing in the evening cool after a day of sweat and mosquitos. The night pulsed with drums beating from the street. Shots of light zoomed from roof to roof, the playful warfare of longtime neighbors. New bangles sang on our wrists, gifted to us by a real life queen of old India. On the streets, families piled onto scooters in their fancy dresses, off to trade sweets with friends. No one spoke of the great deeds of the warrior prince. No one spoke of his return from exile. No one spoke, but the scent of victory, of triumph, of duty fulfilled was thick in the air that festival night.
This year I forgot about it. Life has been too full with living. We recently moved back in with my parents, that same old house in the suburbs, those same dark November skies. My kids, still small, are in tune with the other holidays we celebrate; Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover. Their world helps them to remember these days, to anticipate, to expect. This night I forgot, and so they did not know. But at the last minute, my mom said, “Let’s put out the dhiyas. Let’s do sparklers with the kids. Let me sweep away the leaves.”
Together we stood on the front steps, the chill in the air keeping us close to the house. The kids were dressed for bed, flannel nightgown and footie pajamas. My mom held the sparkler tip to the dhiya’s flame. The old sparkler, unlit for years, burned slow before bursting. The kids gasped. I opened my mouth and sang, “Ram nam raas peeje, manava!” A song my grandmother taught me that year, 18 years ago poured out from my heart. My daughter told her teacher in school, “We said Happy Diwali last night!” Perhaps I smell the scent of victory in the autumn night, perhaps the monkey-god still leaps across the sea. Last night, we were three generations bringing light to the darkness, three generations erasing ignorance with knowledge, three generations singing songs, Diwali, last night, Diwali.