My feed(s) on social media are filled with Diwali wishes. They feature clay diyas with flickering shadows, bright colored rangoli and mithai boxes. The wishes feel alien, the way it feels when someone wishes me Happy Halloween. These customs are new and strange. As a family we have taken to them, they have grown on us so much that this year we missed handing out candy and commenting on the costumes as the little ones walked up in groups to our home.
I type Diwali, backspace and type Deepavali. I do this each time and something rights itself inside me. Deepavali to me is an emotion, a capsule in time and space that my current circumstance cannot recreate with full effect. I miss the smell of oil lamps, the heaviness in the air after a day of frying all sorts of bakshanam. The smell of sugar syrup and cardamom, sometimes tinged with other spices.
Deepavali is as much about the clothes, the traditional oil bath, the legiyum and the mountain of paper in front of the home after the morning’s round of fireworks. It is the smell of chemicals and the knowledge that the area will be mosquito free for a few days. Mostly, it is the buildup to the day, the shopping trips, the rava dosai at Ratna cafe, the trying on of new clothes and parading around the home.
Deepavali for me is also the smell of gingelly oil and shikakai, red watery eyes, pai pinnal and mid morning snooze. It is a day of chinna vengaya sambar and pooris later in the day to go with leftover sambar. Deepavali is also a lot about Appa. The one festival where he would take center stage, anoint oil on hair, hand out new clothes post bath and stand outside the home with us patiently bursting pattasu.
Today, in a burst of energy, I made badam kathli. Then a couple of hours later, I looked up the recipe for ribbon pakoda and then painstakingly made that. I took pictures. I had my children set out LED lamps along all window sills. Our Christmas tree is already up so the home is awash in light. It feels festive. There is the smell of oil in the air. I miss the legiyum but might still make some version of it in the morning. Appa will be on my mind all day tomorrow. Perhaps, I will even make vengaya sambar and pooris one night this week.
I will wish everyone I know Happy Deepavali, spelling it the way I grew up remembering. Most of all, this naraka chaturdashi, I will be hoping that demons are slayed and a way forward appears.