Kamal Kaur’s childhood memories of Diwali will leave many nostalgic and pensive. For those who don’t understand the meaning behind this festival of lights, there is no better way to grasp it than by reading this one woman’s journey
Historically, the origin of Diwali can be traced back to ancient India, when it was probably an important harvest festival. However, there are various legends pointing to the origin of Diwali or ‘Deepawali.’ Some believe it to be the celebration of the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu. In Bengal, the festival is dedicated to the worship of Mother Kali, the dark goddess of strength. Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, is also worshiped in most Hindu homes on this day. In Jainism, Deepawali has an added significance to the great event of Lord Mahavira attaining the eternal bliss of nirvana.
My memories of Diwali have always been exciting. As a kid, I recall my mum ordering loads of cakes from a bakery in the middle of town with ‘Happy Diwali’ inscribed on them with strawberry jam. These cakes were to be given to the relatives and friends over the festive period. Months before, mum’s preparations would start by buying gifts- usually crockery and other home-ware items. She would then get her fancy silverware tray out and polish it until it glittered. This was the tray in which she would place the gifts along with cake and the chocolates if there were kids in the familythen cover with a fancy cloth before going for the social rounds with dad. My siblings and I would sit in the car, all scrubbed up in our Sunday best, feeling very important with our new shoes and fancy clothes.
Then came the really awesome part: we would go to everyone’s homes to give them their gifts. The rather cool aunties and uncles would fish for a crisp blue twenty shilling note (I know how old I am. Let’s just leave it at that!) and our eyes would widen with delight at the thought of getting so much money. Disappointment would cloud our eyes and a stabbing sensation would be felt right in the heart when mum would refuse to take the money and say that all we needed was blessings. But blessings weren’t about to buy me books from my favourite secondhand bookstore in Westlands, were they? Eventually Mum would relent after a lot of persuasion and now that I sit back and think about it, I feel that was just an obligatory drama that had to be done just so that everyone would feel important and happy. I laugh at the thought of it because I think I’m turning into my mother and my cousins are turning into my aunts. What a hilarious life cycle!
After I separated from the ex, I somehow withdrew into my shell and did not celebrate anything except my children’s birthdays. Depression is hard to deal with and trying to be cheerful all the time for the sake of society and this world took its toll on me and I gave up on everything. I never even lit a candle at home because I saw no reason to celebrate.
The Westgate attack changed it all. My children and I were given a new lease of life and I decided to put the past behind and try move on, learn to celebrate again and not let my kids miss out because of my own depression. Diwali came a couple of months after the attack and we lit candles all over the home. I asked the children to put up a Diwali display, get creative and do something right at the entrance of the home to usher in good luck and prosperity, and they did a beautiful job. For the first time, I went out, bought them gifts and even made sweetmeats at home. I welcomed the few friends who had never given up on the children and me during our hard times and gratefully accepted their love, gifts and yes, even I did the drama my mum used to do with the money!
I do not celebrate Diwali for any religious reasons. To me, it is a personal journey and it signified the end of a past I used to live in. Diwali has allowed me to light up my home and life, to let the old out and in bring in new energy, let go of the past, embrace the future, learn to live and laugh again, accept that ups and downs will happen but as long as I keep lighting up my life in the smallest ways, there will be no room for me to go back into the darkness. Happy Diwali to you and yours from me and mine. May this festival of lights light up your life!