When I was little, Diwali was the one day that I looked forward to throughout the year.
It was a day that consisted of beautiful florescent lights and large chattering families dining together in local Indian restaurants situated among 50 others, all brightly lit and decorated with age-old banners, celebrating the joyous festival that Diwali was.
A day where the chalky smell of fireworks felt comforting and an empty, dusky sky didn’t, where each bang and boom was louder than the previous but quieter than the one that followed it.
Diwali was the one day where I’d forget all my worries among the smiling faces and the loud chatter in the bustling atmosphere of my aunt’s cramped two-bedroom flat.
Every year I spent Diwali at my aunt’s house with her four children and in the company of my other extended family who, as always, decided to ‘stop by’ to drop gifts off. We all knew that Diwali was only a wondrous festival when we spent it giggling away as we unwound on the floor mattresses in my aunt’s long rectangular living room.
The morning always had a really special feeling to it.
Almost like Christmas. But better.
The soft sounding music of the prayers on the TV reached every corner of the room, the sweet-smelling aroma of freshly made gulab jamun made my mouth water and the excitement of how the day would unfold always kept me on my toes.
We’d spend the entire morning playing in the small-squared garden as aunty busied herself with the chores, dusting a little more than usual, washing the dishes with just a hint of more washing up liquid to make them squeaky clean and vacuuming even under the sofa to make sure there was no dirt left.
Everything needed to be perfect, and it always was.
The house would be spotless by the time we started decorating it.
We’d end up decorating the whole house with bright yellow lights (with the help of my uncle of course) and all corners of the house would be occupied with candles and diyas by the time we were done.
We’d light up all sorts of candles; small scented candles that smelt of apricot and violet, tall slim ones that couldn’t stand on their own, and round-shaped candles that looked like apples which we’d place inside jars to create a mystical effect.
The diyas were always really special because they smelt different, and that was because they were actually little mud pots consisting of pure ghee and a little lit up cotton pipe.
As the evening would unfold, the excitement increased.
My cousin and I would rush into the shower and scrub ourselves until our skin was red and sore. We’d put on our brightest, most elegant Indian dresses and find matching earrings in my aunt’s drawer. We’d try on a bit of makeup. Enough to make our faces flush but not enough for us to get caught. We’d then giggle as we stared at our reflections in the mirror; two small rounded faces with uneven eyeliner and a little too much blusher. We then flared our dresses around and played with the scarves until we got bored.
Everything felt magical.
We felt happy and content.
The night always ended with me snoring quietly in the arms of my father as he bid adieu to his family and carried me back to the car. It was always a festival I enjoyed the most, and it always ended with a small smile implanted on my sleeping face.
So, what happened?
I grew up and the visits to my aunt’s house decreased. Our family became more distant and we felt more secluded. Festivals were spent in the deafening silence of our own 3-bedroom house, where dad and I just stared at each other and the bare walls awkwardly, not knowing where to go, not knowing what to do.
Diwali turned into ‘just any other day’ for me.
In fact, I started to hate it more than I would a normal day. Because at least I could spend my normal days going about my day-to-day activities without the uncomfortable thought at the back of my head that it just wasn’t supposed to be a normal day.
Each year, Diwali felt more and more uncomfortable.
And each year, it brought about with it the painful truth that we were doing something wrong. We weren’t a normal family.
It wasn’t right to celebrate Diwali like this. Diwali should’ve been celebrated in the presence of the smiling faces of our loved ones, not in an empty, desolate room with nothing but a deaf TV to look at whilst the rest of the world joined in with the festivities.
But things changed. We got happier and more content. We felt whole again, and after my baby brother was born, our family felt complete.
So, this year things should’ve been different right?
Just when we thought that everything was getting better, where Diwali was feeling more like a festival and less like a normal day again, reality kicked in.
Following the recent plight of Sikhs in India, the concept of ‘Black Diwali’ kicked in everywhere around the world.
Sikhs started protesting. They started boycotting the festival of Diwali.
‘No candles are allowed if you are a follower of Guru Nanak’ one said.
‘Do not light fireworks or God will punish you’ said another.
Of course, my stepmother’s reaction to this was just like any other – ‘Of course I won’t celebrate Diwali’ she said, ‘I know it’s my sons first Diwali, but I’d rather not be cursed’ was her conservative, superstitious mind talking.
So just when I thought that Diwali was becoming special for me, just when I felt like I could enjoy this festival in the company of my loving, beautiful family, where I’d spend the evening playing with my cute little 5-month-old brother and light fireworks with my older brother, where I could help my stepmother make some scrumptious Indian cuisine and help my father decorate the whole house, just when I thought that everything would change, nothing did.
Diwali, once again, became a day where I looked on like a spectator.
Diwali was once again, just an ordinary day for me.