Wednesday, 29 October 2008

I'm dreaming of a white Diwali

Diwali is the only time I get religious a year. And every year falls into the same pattern of arrive, tea, pray, fireworks, eat, loosen belt-buckles. It's like traditional Christmases and follows the same protocols every year. You leave every light on to remind yourself of the light that exists in us all. This year was no different in its events yet carried this sense of bittersweet sadness. We all sat in the circle. Dad and his brother, having been through the toughest year of their lives were forlorn. The singing began, the ancient spiritual chanting of the Hindu prayers designed to bless us and celebrate god and give us luck and enlightenment for the year to come. My family has no sense of melody or rhythm and so the singing is always out of tune and time, each person singing their own version of the song, creating a messy paroxysm of celebration. This year new moods pervaded our family circle. Grandfather sat and blessed the accounts of the business. Everyone was sat in silence, staring at their fingers joined at the palm in prayer contemplation. The singing started with its usual awkward stop-start melody-less cacophony. Dad sat, staring at the carpet, defeated, not able to give himself to the spirit. His brother closed his eyes and sang his own tune, breaking into a passion that contradicted the defeated persona he has been emulating for months, singing with urgency and belief, throwing all his eggs into the prayer basket. There was no triumph this year as we all stared at our books, reading the lines slowly and robotically. Usually, when the moods prevail, the singing is fast and frenetic sung with a world-beating chest-pumping eloquence. However, none of this came to play last night. I was moved by the contrast between father and his brother as they sat next to each other, parallels wanting the same end-game. I was moved for the first time ever by this religious experience. Suddenly the lack of melody and the out-of-tune singing and the inability to sing as one in unison became a moving piece of work, an empassioned prayer, a need, a desperation tinged with resignation as father and brother contrasted each other, one going through the motions, the other believing in the power of prayer for the first time in months. He closed his eyes, tuned the rest of us out and had his own private dialogue with his gods, celebrating them so that they might celebrate him in return. Tears streamed as we neared the Hanuman Chalisa, the melodious pure chant of unity and togetherness. We couldn't hold it together. We couldn't get through it. We stumbled and suddenly, amidst the atonal dissonance, there was one voice singing, a plea, a request, a delicate urgent call for help, a despair manifesting itself upwards to the sky.

We hugged each other like it was our last time together. We stood there looking at each other smiling with sad eyes. Yes we all had problems, yes there were forces at play seeking to destroy our spirits but here we were, all stood together as one, finally, as a family.

My dad's brothers and I put our shoes and socks on, opened the back door and walked outside to light some fireworks, none of us wanting to stand in the cold and rain but needing to get through this one little traditional that each passing year we acted out begrudgingly. I walked outside expected rain to dilute my hair. I saw the delicate flow downwards of big snowflakes descend like a message from the dark ether up above. It was snowing hard. The grass of the back lawn was sprinkled with frosting, a candied sugar of anamoly. It was snowing on Diwali in October. It was a Diwali miracle. We laughed to each other. Maybe this strange circumstance was our turning point. I lit the first firework and it erupted upwards in a quick succession of silver canon blasts, erupting above our heads into stardust and blue bolts streaming outwards wildly in the snowstorm. It was soon over and we sat inside feeling like a family together against the odds, like the last gang in town, for the first time all year. Suddenly, through the bittersweet taste of aniseed and sadness, we took stock of our own private Diwali miracles and thought maybe things were finally due a change.

I'm dreaming of a white Diwali, like the ones I never knew. May our days be merry and bright. Om shanti shanti om.

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