Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Another voice in the crowd: Oh, Happy Di..

There is a photograph I'm having trouble locating. In its physical form, rounded edges and all, it's not lost. Of course not. We keep our albums in golden cages. But searching for it in my head is an impractical endeavour, I know that.

I know the photo, even. I remember it clearly enough. But I want the details to be in focus. I want that sharpness. What I do know is that the photo is clicked on a Diwali night, at home in Hisar in 1986. My mother must have taken it. I'm two years old, made to wear a red smocking dress, and my hair is a mushroom helmet. My father is standing over me and his expression is gentle. He's smiling, coaxing me to hold the phuljaddi -- the 'sparkler', the bad guy in the picture. My face is blurry - in my memory, that is. But I remember the emotion in that photo. I'm hurt and scared and teary and evidently not at all enjoying this phuljaddi business. There's less articulateness at age 2. I have no attitude, no future tee shirt slogans that might say imbecile festival, down down! There's just tears. I'm scared. I don't like Diwali. Please Papa, take it away.

My colleague, rushing out of work this evening, admiring on the way the done-up entrances of our neighbouring offices: "These are so pretty na?" (The little blue twinkling lights). "My son calls them chun mun lights.."

I don't like blue lights. I like what her son calls them.

On Sunday night, after raiding but not buying a thing at the Diwali bazaar ('Blind school mela', rather - to any Delhi person) we stopped at Bengal sweets in A-block market, Vasant Vihar to have khandvi. Like pigs so comfortable in each other's slummy company, we demolished the box at the counter. Then bought some for our homes: dhokla, rasgullas and I, palanktod. I'm still amazed at how people, even Punjabis, look dazed when I saw palanktod. Milk cake, peeps, milkcake! Get with it. Also why would any bilingual North Indian (fine -- 'Punjabi'), say milkcake when palanktod has such an infinitely more evocative ring to it, why?

I'm liking Diwali this year. It's not just the mithai. This is strange for me because usually I'm an ass about festivals. I go through the motions but I don't participate. I curse traffic. I avoid markets. I stay home. I watch TV. I grumble. I never send mass messages and I never reply to texts. The use of shining/prosperous/happy/ health* all in under 260 characters? Um, I don'tthinkso.

This year's different. I don't know why its different, but I'm less ass-like. I'm not replying to texts still, and I won't send any, but I'm in this lets-call-the-people-I-love-and-wish-them frame of mind. It's brilliant. Oh and those lights? Too pretty to not click, even with a below par, without flash camera phone. Let's not even get me started on how I worship dry fruit.

I saw a guy from my 7th floor office window struggling to stuff carpets into his car dickie, first this way then that way then just, slam, any which way. The carpets were new, obviously, possibly a bizarre corporate gift. I saw a scooterist at the race course road light cock his helmet to read the label on a wrapped box of mithai he was carrying. I saw people buying garlands of marigold. I bought some too. Twenty bucks a string. And those paan-looking-Ashoka leaf necklaces for doorways.

Still Chhoti Diwali. We're sitting on the steps outside the coffee place in Vasant Kunj, a cappuccino paid for on her sudesko card and had take away. We're doing our routine, playing our parts, sipping from that micro straw, watching people in their nice silk kurtas come and go, contemplating the inane. She was telling me about what a fool she felt like arguing with a history major about Islam being the oldest religion in the world. We switch topics. The wearability of polka dotted wedge heels, how my life here in Delhi is sorted, how being single beyond three months is a drag and for us both outstanding lookers -- pause for hehes -- impossible. Micro straw. Coffee sip. Want drag or kill it? Kill it. Then to a wedding guest list. Then the plan for tomorrow. I was alternately mmm-hmming and whining about the insects biting me because I was O-positive when a a fat little mongrel (me: ole baby; she: FUCK! ) wags his tails and nears the stairs. Madam freaks out. Me: just relax, will you, conquer your fears. She, jumping up and running to the other side of me: I don't WANT to conquer my fears! This makes me laugh. Freeze frame. I love this moment. That's the line. Just like chun mun lights was the phrase. I'm full of this feeling that my life IS sorted. 

At lunch, different friends, three of us, two girls, one boy, were discussing this. One of us, the NRI was leaving later tonight. Packing remains. As does the trade off; the money, globetrotting and loneliness versus the stagnant but comfortable life with enough people to call and sit with. Some of us (consultants) pay thirty pounds in London to get our eyebrows threaded by this "very good Pakistani woman", and see the northern lights this coming Jan. Some of us (journalists) put off getting our eyebrows done but have the luxury, freedom and flexibility to be staring at smiley faces drawn on foam at the Nirulas in Def Col that I earlier never noticed .That we can co exist, enjoy the pomfret and the prawns and have good conversation IS lovely, isn't it?

I made my friend, same pomfret-prawn-lunch one, read something I'd written. So she read and she laughed and she said hello again to purple prose and then we laughed and, "oh my god, this is so corny ha ha!", and moved on to mock academic discussions about how corny is the new cool. We quiz the only boy at the table. How is it that he (thoroughly engaging writer) can be corny, effortless and cool? When did we, us remaining two, get so self conscious, also in our writing? Especially in our writing? He shrugs: I don't know. I don't care about corny versus cool.. or something, I guess. Or some such zen answer. Both of us girls: Hmm. Hmm. Small unifying voice between us: what the hell happened to us then?! Was this taught, to mind our natural cheesy, to curb it?! Were we like this in school- careful?! Damn. We reflect on our corny pretentions, grow bored, give up and go have dessert. Best kulfi! Def col.

There is a guy a work I can't stand. He's not a 'guy' in the way the term sometimes means young fellow. He's this old, hobbling, grey eyed monster, if you ask me. Not that he's done anything to warrant the epithet but I just don't like him. I don't talk to him. He's senior enough, obviously, but I will never discuss anything work related or otherwise. I refuse to make eye contact and I abhor the way he continues to laugh at bad jokes even fifteen seconds after the flat punch line. It irritates me. I want to break his other leg. You know how I know I must be in an ok-mood? Because when he was limping out of office today, I sucked it up, pursed my lips and said Happy Diwali. Obviously, there's something very wrong. But I suppose, while I'm riding the wave, don't burn your hair and here's to narrowly escaping the use of trite phraseology*. May you forgive yourself calories you will stuff your face with, and the diyas all look really puhrty. Jai Ram ji ki, literally so.


Anonymous said...

the "new" cool will be old tomorrow

stick to your stuff

sharply yours,

NdeL said...

It's the opposite for me this year. I've loved Diwali all my life (leaving out the fireworks, still irritate me) but this year, I ain't likin' a thing about it!

Oh, well.

Happy Diwali ♥ :)

Sucheta said...


I'm sitting in my hostel room listening to loud patakhas (not the hot punjabi woman kind), reading blogs and books. I might order a salad for dinner. That's how much I like festivals. I burst a mirchi bomb in my hand as a six year old, so not a big fan of Diwali. I get why you were scared in that picture

But I called up all my relatives today: nanananidadadadichachabuamasi everyone. So i guess I'm in a festive mood too. I get what you mean.

Jai Ram ji ki back woman! I love your blog!

Anonymous said...

Happie diwaliee nimpipi,
such a happy post,
and glad you're a little bit happier again,
much much lovee.

Nimpipi said...

K: Hello Sharpness, my old friend...; Yes, ok. I hear you.

NdeL: Oh well. I think we're all a little glad it's over..

Sucheta: You sound sorted. Loved your nanananidadadadichachabuamasibit ! You reminded me to ring up my Dadi and wish her. So, thank you. =)

Anon: iblush.

Sanchari said...

Dude, I hate festivals too. Totally bunked Navaratri this year. Almost got away with avoiding Diwali, but a friend had me over for dinner. Turns out even though he is a Bangladeshi muslim, he cooked Indian food that day. And, raspberry martinis with Indian food, and sherry soaked dessert after, somehow made Diwali extra special this year. No patakas though. Haven't burst any since I left India at the age of nine.

Happy belated Diwali, and all that. So happy to see a new post!!

Anonymous said...

you are growing wiser by the time, alarmingly so ...


Anonymous said...

No sweets for me .. all i got in diwali was smoke and lots of noise

Miss.Mystic said...

I love milk cakes! Just had one piece this diwali, all that fake and bad mithai news was more than enough to keep me away from sweets.

Belated Happy Diwali! :)

Nimpipi said...

Sanchari: I'm stealing htis raspberry martini-making Bangladeshi gent. Hope he doesn't mind. Sounds like a great way to spend Diwali to me.. sherry soaked mmm

Kheldar: Oh man, I have so much evidence to the contrary but sweet of you say so. :))

Anon: I love it! You're more of a grinch than I am! :D

Mystic: I see a changed quality to your comments that is leaving me nodding. I like, I like. Happy Diwali from patronising cow.

Anonymous said...

The season has definitely turned you slightly mellow.

Anonymous said...

I sincerely believe that most of the Hindu festivals are crap... now, you might blame this prejudice on my being a miya'n . would you?